If you are fortunate, you will be leaving Ohio soon to travel to a warmer (and sunnier) destination down south. After spending months hibernating in your room from the dreary winter weather, sunscreen is the last thing on your mind. Without fail, you head out to the beach or pool the instant you arrive and are lucky if you remember to grab your towel. Upon returning to your room hours later, you notice a distinct reddening of your skin and feel the heat radiating from the area. Because it’s the first day of your trip, you panic and wonder what can be done to minimize the pain and redness; a bright red face wasn’t the look you were going for on spring break.
Though time is the best component of the healing process, there are a few things you can do to minimize the pain and help the healing along. First of all, an over-the-counter pain medication such as Motrin (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) will help decrease overall pain, redness, and swelling. As for topical relief, you may want to try cool compresses or aloe to soothe the stinging. Additionally, it is important to stay hydrated (with a bottle of water, not a bottle of another favorite spring break beverage) because the burn tends to draw fluids out of the skin and make you more dehydrated. Keep in mind that alcohol also dehydrates your body, which is why we don’t recommend trying to hydrate with it. Moisturize your skin with lotion or cream to decrease the look of peeling and flaking skin (using a product with Vitamin C or E may have additional healing benefit). Calamine lotion or Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may help reduce itching.
If the sunburn has caused nausea, vomiting, blistering, heat stroke, or confusion it is best to seek medical attention. Stay away from products containing benzocaine or lidocaine because they may cause further irritation to your skin. Also avoid products containing petroleum (i.e. Vaseline) because this may trap the heat. To prevent further burning of your skin (more redness, more pain) stay indoors or if you just can’t stay away from the sun, wear clothing that will cover the area and slather on that sunscreen that was wedged into the bottom of your suitcase.
Some medications may cause you to burn more easily. Check out this past blog post if you think your medication might be one of them. http://shs.osu.edu/blog/do-i-need-to-avoid-the-sun-if-im-on-medication
Of course, the best way to treat a sunburn is to not get one in the first place. Check out this past blog post for tips on prevention. http://shs.osu.edu/blog/sunscreen-advice-from-a-dermatologist-to-prevent-skin-cancer
Submitted by Emily Burns, PharmD Candidate 2014
Reviewed by Jason Goodman, PharmD, RPh