Not to brag or anything, but in my entire three decades of life, I’ve been fortunate to have only felt the sting of a sunburn once. “A sunburn is a skin response to too much ultraviolet B exposure,” assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Diego Melanie Palm, M.D., tells SELF. No matter how many layers of sunscreen I applied before hitting the beach that day, or the fact that I sat under an umbrella in a wide-brimmed hat and one-piece swimsuit, it happened. Blame it on my need to constantly wade in the ocean water and bask in the sun and my forgetfulness around reapplying sunscreen instead of staying put in the shade. And just to be clear, the best way to treat a sunburn is to avoid getting one in the first place by using (and reapplying) sunscreen, staying in the shade when possible, and covering your skin. (But if you’re reading this, that probably didn’t all go as planned.)
According to Dr. Palm, intense exposure of UVB rays rays can cause a toxic cellular response that affects both the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin) and upper dermis (the second layer of skin). Shortly after exposure, some cells in the upper layers of skin can become so unhealthy that they undergo a controlled cell death response, known as apoptosis. The skin’s response of UVB cause a chain reaction of other responses that begin with the release of chemicals, known as chemokinesand cytokines.
Chemokines can cause tissue swelling, blood vessel dilation—manifesting as sunburn redness—pain, and even a few systemic symptoms. To help ease the pain of a sunburn, Dr. Palm recommends ibuprofen if tolerated and appropriate, and looking for products that contain anti-inflammatory hydrocortisone. Soothing agents, like aloe and colloidal oatmeal (try Aveeno’s Soothing Bath Treatment in your bath), which can also help ease the sting. She advises using a moisturizer containing ceramides—or lipids that help skin retain moisture—a week after getting burned to help treat the skin barrier and its dryness. For long-term treatment, Dr. Palm suggests using an over-the-counter retinoid like Differin Gel or retinol once the burn and dryness of sunburn is gone to rehab skin.
Now that Memorial Day weekend is officially here, there will be many more beach days (and potential sunburns) to come. I decided to ask a few people about their favorite soothing products to use to help treat sunburned skin. Suffering from a bad sunburn and looking for some relief? Read on for a few products fellow sufferers absolutely love.
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