- Increased blood flow is what gives sunburn redness and makes the skin feel warm to the touch
- Pain, swelling, and itching are common side effects of sunburn, but always monitor your sunburn for signs of a severe burn
- depending on the severity, can take a few days or even weeks to heal
- Make a sunburn go away quickly by taking a cool bath or shower, staying out of the sun and keeping hydrated to avoid dehydration
The summer is here in the US, which means most of us spend more time outdoors, in the sun. Exposure to the sun during daily activities can cause sunburn, the skin's visible reaction to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Sunlight is the most common form of UV radiation, and it breaks down into three types of rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. Unlike sunlight, which you can feel and see, UV radiation is less identifiable and can cause irreversible damage to the skin, such as blisters, burns, or premature aging, if not appropriately avoided. People who have fair skin, moles, or freckles, are most likely to develop sunburns through the summer, although it can happen to anyone at any time. It can damage your skin even on cool, cloudy days, from behind a window or through clothing.
To help understand UV radiation and to avoid dangerous sun habits, let's dive into the causes and treatment of a sunburn so that you can spend less time worrying about your skin and more time enjoying the great outdoors!
As previously mentioned, the sun’s ultraviolet rays are broken down into UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC rays are absorbed by the atmosphere and do not reach the earth’s surface.
UVA rays are also called ‘Aging’ rays. These rays have longer wavelengths and, as a result, can penetrate the deeper layers of your skin, where they affect your blood vessels and connective tissues. After prolonged UVA exposure, collagen and elastin (the fibers in your skin that keep it plump and tight) begin to break down, resulting in wrinkles, loss of elasticity, and premature aging. UVA rays are also responsible for activating the melanin pigment already present in your upper skin cells (called keratinocytes). This results in the tans that appear in no time and fade just as fast.
UVB rays are known as ‘Burning’ rays. These rays have shorter wavelengths and affect the outermost layers of the skin. They stimulate the production of new melanin, leading to a heavy increase in the dark-colored pigment within a few days. This tan may last a relatively long time. UVB rays also stimulate the body to create a thicker outer layer (or epidermis) - exposure to this type of radiation triggers the body’s natural protective mechanisms, resulting in darker, thicker skin. Unfortunately, overexposure to UVB rays is also what causes sunburn. When an excess of UVB rays reaches your skin, they damage cells in the epidermis.
In response, your immune system increases blood flow to the affected areas. The increased blood flow is what gives sunburn redness and makes the skin feel warm to the touch.
What Are The Symptoms of a Sunburn and What is Considered a Bad Sunburn?
Sunburn can be uncomfortable, to say the least. The most common symptoms of a mild sunburn include:
- Darkening of the skin’s color, ranging from pink to red
- Skin that feels hot to the touch
- Pain, swelling, and itching
- Flu-like symptoms including chills, fever, nausea, or vomiting
- Skin loss (or peeling) that takes about 3 to 7 days after exposure to begin
- Fluid-filled blisters that may itch and eventually pop to reveal even more tender skin beneath.
It's important to monitor your sunburn for signs of a severe burn, including blistering or peeling, and feverish symptoms. If you experience other or more severe symptoms, it may be time to call the doctor, to find a medical treatment that is right for you.
Let’s take a minute to discuss sunburn peeling in greater detail; why does your skin peel, and how should you treat your peeling sunburn?
First off, dry and peeling skin is similar to sunburn in that it is a sign of damage to the upper layer of your skin caused by overexposure to the sun. The good news is, when the skin begins to peel, it is a sign the body is trying to heal itself by getting rid of the damaged cells, so no need to be alarmed. White blood cells help protect you from infection and disease, attack and remove the damaged skin cells, which cause the burn to peel.
If your skin has started to peel, you can still use many of the same techniques that apply to a non-peeling sunburn to find relief and prevent the peeling from getting worse. It is recommended that you immediately get out of the sun when you notice your skin has started to peel. Taking cold showers or baths and relieving the swelling with an anti-inflammatory will also help. The best thing to do is replenish moisture in the area but be careful to avoid petroleum-based or other oil-based creams, as these may trap heat and make your sunburn even worse. Don’t forget to drink a ton of water to prevent dehydration.
As tempting as it is, don’t pull your peeling skin or over-exfoliate in an attempt to remove the dead skin. Instead, allow it to slough off your body on its own. (Highlight, circle, and underline this in your brain!)
Peeling stops when the burn has healed. It can take up to 7 days for mild to moderate burns. Keep in mind that your skin is more sensitive to additional UV damage after a sunburn, so be sure to take extra care to protect and cover peeling skin as it heals. However, if you take care of it and avoid further sun exposure, a mild to moderate burn should heal relatively quickly.
How Long Will a Sunburn last?
On a hot summer’s day, sunburn can occur in less than 15 minutes and, depending on the severity, can take a few days or even weeks to heal. Remember to avoid the sun and keep your skin moisturized and protected during this time.
How Do You Make a Sunburn Go Away Quickly?
Prevention is the most vital step to avoid short-term consequences of sun exposure, including redness, pain, and blistering. We suggest that you seek shade whenever possible, cover up any exposed skin, and use an SPF, remembering to reapply it generously to help avoid sunburns.
If the skin already appears red or crisp-feeling, then a sunburn may be already taking form. Luckily, the pain and discomfort of a mild sunburn can be treated at home through a few different remedies.
Medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can decrease pain and flu-like symptoms from being out in the sun.
If you prefer a more holistic approach to treatment, Over Exposed After Sun Recovery Gel is a great anti-inflammatory that contains peppermint extract and 11 natural botanicals and oils to help cool the skin and heal the burn from within. Read more about all the fantastic ingredients in Over Exposed here!
Other remedies that can be used together include:
- Taking a cool bath or shower. Avoid bath salts, oils, and perfumes because these may produce skin reactions. Avoid scrubbing the skin or shaving the skin. Use soft towels to gently dry the body. Don't rub. Use a light, fragrance-free skin moisturizer.
- Staying out of the sun while you are sunburned.
- Keeping hydrated to avoid dehydration
We now know that sunburns come from excessive exposure to UV radiation. Each time you expose your skin to the sun's UV rays, you risk damaging the skin permanently or hyperpigmentation. All types of sunburn, whether severe or mild, can cause permanent and irreversible skin damage, so you must protect your skin from the sun, not only when at the beach or pool but every day.