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How to Treat Severe Sunburn

How to Treat Severe Sunburn

Greg Binnie, a redhead from Scotland, spent the day outside in a tank top without sunscreen. His shoulders and neck suffered from second-degree burns. He tweeted photos of the severe sunburn and it's shockingly painful. "Put on sun cream," he wrote in a viral tweet. "2nd degree burns from doing a days work outside. Am in f—ing agony."

Have You or Someone You Know Had a Blistering Sunburn?

We are in a long, sunny, and notoriously risky weekend in the U.S.A. It's famous for barbecues, picnics, and sunburns. Could what happened to Greg happen to you?

How Common Are Second-degree Burns From The Sun?

Before sunscreen was invented, it was very common in people with fair skin. Sunburn occurs when the intensity of UV rays exceed your skin's ability to block and protect living cells to the point of a severe toxicity. Your risk of burn increases with:

  1. Fairer skin.
  2. Your proximity to the sun.
  3. Longer duration in the sun.

Do you really understand number 2? It's key to why most people are surprised by their sunburns.

The sun is currently in the Northern Hemisphere and is the closest to people like Greg. At mid-day, the sun is closer than morning or afternoon. The closer the sun, the more intense the UVB rays are and the greater your risk of exposure and sunburn. Take a look at the graphic below!

My team and I created this graphic to help people understand why the sun is currently most dangerous for us living in the Northern Hemisphere. I also recently did a Facebook live on this topic too.

Why Is A Sunburn So Bad For Your Skin?

A sunburn indicates a massive amount of UVB has entered your skin. It causes terrible DNA mutations that lead to cancer in the future. Greg, who posted his severe burn, is also a redhead. Redheads have extremely fair skin and a unique type of melanin (pheomelanin) that does not handle UV as well as the more normal melanin present in most other skin types (eumelanin). The skin type is very sun-sensitive. Anyone can burn from UVB though.

Blistering Sunburn From UVB Exposure?

This is a result of harmful UVB rays poisoning your skin. It causes a cascade of inflammation that leads to pain, redness, and swelling. When severe, the fluid seeps between the cells of the epidermis (top living layer of skin) and split the spaces open into blisters.

In extremely severe cases, your body will also feel ill because the inflammation spreads. Symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, rapid heart rate, and even dangerously low blood pressure.

What If  This Happens To You Or A Loved One?

First, cool the skin with cool water compresses 4 times a day. Moisturize with a bland but healing moisturizer after each treatment. Don't use a product with AHAs; they can irritate sunburned skin.

Take an anti-inflammatory medicine if it's safe for you. These include aspirin or indomethacin (prescription). They need to be used immediately.

Apply pure aloe vera gel or a chilled paste of aloe vera and cucumbers to the burned skin. Don't use purchased aloe vera gel that contains anesthetics like benzocaine. Cortisone creams applied within 6 hours may also help.

When Should I Seek Medical Care?

If you feel sick or faint, seek medical attention immediately. Once your skin heals, it’s time to start seeing a dermatologist annually for skin cancer screening. A history of sunburns means your skin is now at higher risk for skin cancer, especially the deadly melanoma. Greg, as a redhead, is at even greater risk of cancer.

If you would like even more information about sunburns, I wrote a free eBook on it.

How To Enjoy The Summer Without The Burn

Yes, you can be outdoors all day with UVB rays showering you intensely without being uncomfortable. I give you practical and easy advice here, tested by my patients and me.