Taking care of your skin should be numero uno on your beauty to-do list. Not only is it the largest organ in your body, but it also protects your bones and smaller organs. However, now that summer is in full swing, we tend to put our skin through the wringer. From going to the beach to having a picnic in the park, getting sunburn is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from happening.
But what’s so damaging about sunburns in the first place? Well, according to board-certified dermatologist and founder of the educational skincare website, FryFace, Fayne Frey says sunburns can drastically alter your cell DNA. “Ultraviolet light — whether directly from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning lamps and tanning beds — causes direct damage to skin cell DNA resulting in apoptosis or cell death,” Frey explains. “Ultraviolet radiation causes an acute and delayed inflammatory response in the skin and vasodilation of blood vessels, which results in the redness seen with sunburn.” Yikes. While getting a golden-brown tan looks good from the outside, it doesn’t sound good for your insides.
Of course, getting a sunburn is probably not on your summer bucket list. But if you happen to get one while you’re drinking a glass of rosé by the pool, don’t worry, we got you. We tapped Frey to give you the 411 on what you should refrain from doing to your sunburn so you can get back to checking off your summer to-do list.
1. Stay out of the sun as much as you can
Take a moment of rest, beach babe. While you might be ready to jump back into the sun to deepen your tan, you may want to take a breather for your skin to heal. “A sunburn is a self-limited condition, usually resolving within three to seven days,” Frey says. “With that being said, one should always stay out of direct sunlight. Exposure to UV light is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers.”
2. Try not to pick or peel your sunburn
As tempting as it is to pick at your sunburn, you actually could be doing more harm than good. According to Frey, peeling your skin increases the risk of infection. Instead of picking at it, she suggests to let your “skin peel on its own as peeling skin may expose new skin, [which] is too raw.”
But exactly how long does a sunburn take to heal? Healthline claims that mild sunburns can take anywhere from three to five days to heal, whereas a moderate burn can last a week, including a few bonus days of peeling. While this might suck for your outdoor summer plans, this is a good time to catch up on reading your summer reading list or watching your latest Netflix binge from the comfort of your couch.
3. Whatever you do, don’t. pop. blisters.
Blisters appear when you have a second-degree burn, which means your epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (lower layer) are damaged. Frey informs that getting rid of them before they properly heal can “increase the chance of [an] infection to spread.”
But how is the best way to take care of blisters? According to Frey, your blisters should “be gently cleaned with a mild cleanser and covered with wet dressings.” However, if you notice that your sunburn is looking pretty bad, you may want to call your doctor. “Individuals with severe blistering sunburns and pain, with system symptoms like fever or headaches, should seek medical attention for fluid replacement and pain relief,” Frey adds.
4. Avoid ingredients that are too harsh or irritating
Your skin is vulnerable AF right now, and the last thing you want to do is irritate it with harsh ingredients. For instance, Frey explains that “oral steroids have not been shown to be effective in sunburn management [and] petrolatum-based emollients that trap heat into the skin should be avoided. [Plus,] topical analgesics that contain lidocaine or benzocaine can irritate skin and should be avoided.”
Luckily, you can treat your sunburn with plenty of ingredients you already have in your home. “[F]or mild to moderate sunburns, [use] cool compresses, aloe vera-based gels that may provide pain relief, or oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen,” Frey explains. Just double-check your aloe gel or lotion before you use it. Make sure it’s made from 100 percent aloe vera and doesn’t include any additive ingredients, such as perfumes or colors, as per Healthline. This will prevent your sunburn from getting worse.
5. Refrain from taking hot showers or baths
Unless you want your sunburn to take longer to heal, it’s best to refrain from taking super hot showers or baths. Not only do hot showers dry out your skin by stripping it of its natural oils, but Frey explains that they can also aggravate your sunburn even more. “Sunburns [are] an inflammatory process and the blood vessels are dilated. [During this time,] heat is being released [and] hot showers can further dilate [the] blood vessels,” Frey says.
In an interview with Self, Gary Goldenberg, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, said it’s best to take cool showers or baths to help calm inflammation. But as soon as you get out of the shower, you should lightly pat your skin with a towel and apply a light moisturizer to lock all the moisture in. Just make sure to use scent-free or dye-free moisturizers to prevent even more irritation from happening, as Healthline noted.
6. Avoid exercise
According to Frey, doing intense exercises is a no-go when you have a sunburn. Not only can you overheat, but the sweat you produce can irritate your inflamed skin even more. “Exercise causes sweating. Sweat is saltwater. Saltwater can be irritating. [Adding] irritation to [an] already irritated sunburned is not recommended. Let the skin recover first, then exercise,” Frey explains.
How long exactly do you have to wait until you can start pumping iron? Well, Jessica Krant, M.D., dermatologist and founder of Art of Dermatology in NYC told Self to put off your workout for about two days and then looking at your skin to assess if exercise would be okay.