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It doesn’t take long. Just 20 minutes outside on a sunny day can severely burn your skin. If you forgot to slather yourself with SPF 30 or higher, how can you find relief? Dr. Susan Taylor offers these tips.
SUMMER PEEL... NOW WHAT?
Most sunburns are considered first degree burns and do not usually require a trip to the doctor or emergency room. To take care of your burn, the first thing that you want to do is apply sunburn gel to relieve the pain, discomfort and itchiness. “Solarcaine Aloe Extra Burn Relief Gel” contains lidocaine and aloe vera. The lidocaine is a topical anesthetic, which numbs the skin and relieves pain and itching. The aloe vera soothes the skin. Also consider applying cool compresses to the burned area or better yet, soaking in “Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment.” It comes in single use packets that you pour into a bathtub of lukewarm water. You soak for about 10 minutes (and it feels great). “Aveeno” contains colloidal oatmeal which does three things: stops the itch, moisturizes the skin (burned skin is extremely dry) and finally and most importantly helps to improve the ability of the skin to protect itself.
If your skin is a little past the acute sunburn stage and is beginning to peel, apply an after sun balm such as “Avene After Sun Moisture Repair.” The after sun product will soothe your red, tender, irritated skin. Most importantly, it will assist in repairing the immediate damage that the sun has done. This damage causes a decrease in the normal barrier function of the skin. When your skin is injured during a sunburn, it will lose its ability to protect you from the environment. Practically speaking, your skin will lose the much needed water or moisture to the environment (also called transepidermal water loss). Additionally, many substances or products that come into contact with the skin (the cleansers, astringents or lotions that you normally use) will cause irritation, stinging or burning. After sun products contain biocymentine, a complex of natural skin-identical lipids, that contribute to the physiological reconstitution of the intercellular cement of the skin, thus helping repair sun-induced damage.
The third thing you should do is to gently remove those dead, peeling skin cells WITHOUT pulling the skin off. Don’t use a loofa or puff to exfoliate (the newly forming skin beneath the peeling skin is very delicate). Instead, bathe once or twice a day with lukewarm water (you can probably stop the “Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment” at this point) and use a soft washcloth. Or better yet, use a disposable cleansing cloth to remove the peeling areas (“Dove Hydrating Cleansing Cloths for Sensitive Skin” or “Olay Daily Facials for Normal to Dry Skin” have a good reputation). The cloths will gently remove the dead skin and you can literally throw the dead, peeling skin away after the bath. Make sure that you select cloths for dry or sensitive skin and that you don’t rub too vigorously.
At this point your skin should be less sensitive and prone to stinging and burning, so you might consider using a moisturizer with a mild alpha hydroxy acid to help further exfoliate the dead skin as well as moisturize it. Try “Lubriderm Skin Renewal Lotion.” Although it might initially feel a little oily on your skin, it will be absorbed very quickly. “Cellex C Sun Rescue Gel” is another moisturizer that contains hyaluronic acid which binds water to the skin and also helps to alleviate the peeling associated with flaking, sun-burned skin. “Cellex C Sun Rescue Gel” also has a visible anti-aging effect on sun-challenged skin. It contains L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and green tea extract. Both ingredients are anti-oxidants that combat sun-induced free radicals (free radicals damage the skin’s DNA). Vitamin C is also important for collagen production to maintain elastic, firm, smooth skin.
Once the skin has completely healed (6-10 weeks), you might start to see freckles and red blood vessels (squiggly lines) on the skin. This is the time to shift into high gear in terms of long term recovery and repair. Ask your dermatologist for a prescription of “Renova” or “Avage” cream. These medications help repair damaged collagen (the building blocks of the skin) and help lighten dark spots or freckles (called solar lentigines). Apply a small amount every other night (to get the skin use to it) and then apply nightly. If the freckles or sun spots are very noticeable, you might also consider asking your dermatologist for a prescription bleaching cream containing hydroquinone like “Lustra” or a new product called “Solage” that has been demonstrated to lighten sun spots.
Finally, by all means, don’t go back in the sun unless you want an instant burn. And remember, it is never too late to start wearing a sunscreen. Try an SPF 30 for your body and “Eucerin Facial Sunscreen” for your face.
Susan C. Taylor, MD is a Harvard trained physician and internationally recognized dermatologist. She lectures extensively both domestically and abroad concerning dermatologic issues. Dr. Taylor is the Director of the Skin of Color Center, St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Columbia University. In addition, she practices at Society Hill Dermatology, Philadelphia, PA. Dr. Taylor is the author of “Brown Skin: Dr. Susan Taylor’s Prescription for Flawless Skin, Hair and Nails.”