By Katie Rosenbrock
Anyone who's ever suffered sunburn (whether mild or severe) knows that the fiery feeling of inflamed skin is one we'd all rather avoid. Your skin is irritated and itchy, it hurts to take a hot shower and wearing clothes feels like a curse.
And aside from the pain, another (hugely) negative side effect (that we hardly ever think about) is the irreversible, permanent damage done to our skin.
"You can't reverse the skin DNA damage that resulted from excessive sun exposure," says Dr. Cynthia Bailey, a board-certified dermatologist and the President and CEO of Advanced Skin Care and Dermatology Physicians. "Sunburns increase your risk of getting melanoma, the potentially deadly type of skin cancer."
Bailey says that even just one "blistering" sunburn before the age of 18 can double your risk for melanoma, which is why her top treatment tips always first emphasize prevention.
"Prevention is really important,” she says. “The best treatment is prevention.”
Of course, sometimes even your best efforts at protecting your skin from the sun fall short; maybe you missed a few hard-to-reach spots, forgot to reapply or simply dismissed the need for sunscreen altogether (which you should never do, because everyone always needs sunscreen).
When the uncomfortable effects of these slip ups start to show up in the form of red, irritated skin there's almost nothing you wouldn't do to make it go away immediately.
Unfortunately, there's no quick "cure" for sunburn. There are things you can do (and habits you can avoid) to help soothe the pain, but for the most part, you just have to grin and bear it until your skin heals itself.
However, while you're slathering up with aloe on an hourly basis and waiting for the redness to dull down, you can use the following tips to help aid the healing process and soothe the pain.
Similar to the effects of lathering up with a cool paste, a cold compress will also help aid recovery by constricting your skin's capillaries. “When skin is red, like when it’s sunburned, the skin capillaries are ‘wide open’ and flowing with blood circulation,” says Bailey. Open capillaries make way for increased pain and inflammation, but when they’re constricted pain and inflammation will be lessened. "The idea is to gently cool your skin, so don't apply the ice pack directly to your injured skin, it would be too harsh," says Bailey. "Instead, use a thin towel to separate the ice pack and your sunburned skin."
Bailey recommends that sunburn sufferers moisturize religiously, but the key to using hydrating lotions is applying them within three minutes after drying off from a shower or bath. She notes that although this will help soothe and hydrate your skin, depending on how bad your burn is you may still experience peeling after a week or so.
If your daily skincare routine includes products like acne medications, anti-aging products that contain alpha hydroxy acid, retinol or tretinoin, or any other "harsh" chemicals, Bailey recommends removing them from your regimen until your skin has completely healed. "Sunburned skin is more vulnerable to irritation than normal skin," says Bailey. "This means that it’s porous and fragile and needs to be 'babied.' If you don’t baby it you may cause even more injury.
Perhaps since it's so painful to take a hot shower or bath when suffering from sunburn, this tip is quite obvious. However, Bailey recommends avoiding hot water at all costs because it will open up your skin's capillaries and, as mentioned before, increase inflammation. Until the redness is reduced and your sunburn is almost healed take cool water showers and baths instead.
"Cucumbers are rich in natural botanical compounds that have both antioxidant and analgesic properties," says Bailey. She suggests chilling and then blending cucumber slices to create a cool paste that you can apply to your skin that will help relieve the pain and naturally reduce inflammation. "Remember to use a cool gel or paste, as the coolness also speeds recovery by constricting your skin's capillaries, which are bringing in the building blocks of pain and inflammation," she says.
Obviously you don't want to expose your irritated skin to the very thing that caused your sunburn in the first place, but you should probably avoid long periods of direct sun exposure for a few weeks while your skin heals. "The durability of skin after a sunburn depends on the extent of the burn," say Bailey. Normally, the stratum corneum, a healthy layer of dead skin cells, helps to protect your skin from the sun. But Bailey says that after suffering a sunburn this layer peels for about one week and then takes at least another two to rebuild. "The soonest your skin could be back to normal is about three weeks. If the sunburn was severe it could take even longer," she says.
More From The Active Times:
-- Alarming Things You Need to Know About Sunscreens
-- 6 Things To Know About Sun Protection
-- 11 Myths About Sunscreen (And How to Protect Your Skin Properly)