How to treat sunburn

Weather does hold a bit of fascination for us Brits and during the summer months we become even more obsessive about it. Holidays, barbeques and summer fêtes are all at the mercy of the erratic British weather systems. Yet when the sun does pop its head out we are often caught off guard, with last year's bottle of factor 30 nowhere in sight. Unless you've lived under a rock for the past few decades you will no doubt be aware of the harmful effects of UV light. Despite this, over 200 people attend A&E each year with symptoms of sunburn. It's worth remembering that children are particularly susceptible to sun-related skin damage and a significant burn can markedly increase their lifetime risk of melanoma. Like most things in life, prevention is better than cure, so always remember the old slip, slop, slap mantra

Melanin is our body's natural pigment and gives colour to our hair, skin and eyes. It also protects our skin from UV sunlight. Sunburn occurs when the amount of UV light exceeds the ability of melanin to protect us. You are more susceptible to sunburn the less melanin you have in your skin. Very fair skins can burn after just 15 minutes of sun exposure. Although the tan and burn will fade with time, the damage to the skin lasts. The best policy is to avoid burning in the first place, butExpand Section if you do misjudge things and get caught out, there are a few things that are worth trying:

  1. Get out of the sun the moment you feel any slight tingling or irritation of your skin. It can take around 4-6 hours for sunburn to develop, so if you are already feeling effects whilst in sunlight this may spell problems later on.
  2. Bathe the burnt skin in cool (never cold) water , or take a long cool shower.
  3. After gently drying the skin use plenty of moisturiser and keep reapplying regularly. This will help hydrate the skin and limit peeling. Any plain moisturiser should do the job.
  4. If the area is very inflamed you can use a small amount of 1% hydrocortisone cream to settle things down. You can buy this over the counter, but see a doctor first in the under-2s.
  5. Ibuprofen is a good anti-inflammatory, so if things are feeling uncomfortable reach for this rather than paracetamol . Ibuprofen will ease discomfort whilst also reducing inflammation.
  6. Drink plenty of fluids. Any burn can potentially lead to dehydration so avoid this by replenishing lost fluids as soon as possible. Children are particularly susceptible so keep encouraging them to drink, or offer a cold ice-lolly if you are struggling
  7. Try to leave the skin alone other than to apply lots of moisturiser. Don't pick at blisters or peeling skin as this will only make things worse.

Hopefully all this advice will be in vain - be prepared and protect your skin in the sun.

Dr Jessica Garner is a GP and health blogger. Visit her blog here.


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