Debbie Bernheim

What is a sunburn?
Most of you have experienced a sunburn? We know it’s wrong and as you wince in pain putting your clothes on over it, you’re kicking yourself for not being more diligent in applying sunscreen. My feeling is if you truly understood what was happening to your skin while you’re lying there baking and worshiping the sun for that golden tan you wouldn’t be so remiss in applying your sunscreen every two hours.

You see, a sunburn is the skin’s response to extreme ultraviolet (UV) exposure and indicates severe damage. In as little as 10 minutes of intense UV exposure, the skin sets into motion a system of defense against this enemy. The first indication of damage is redness. This is the body’s inflammatory response in situations requiring repair and is a result of dilating blood vessels. The skin will then start to lose moisture and hydration, which will be apparent with a feeling of tightness. Slowly, skin cells will start to thicken and melanin pigment will be produced (tanning) in an attempt to stop the UV rays from penetrating through to the deeper layers and damaging the DNA of the cells. When the skin is exposed to high levels of sunlight this may result in hypo or hyperpigmentation which appears as irregular light or dark patches. The body is excellent at coping with minimal amounts of damage, but if exposure is greater than the body’s ability to repair and cleaning up, more serious consequences may result. If DNA is damaged and its repair mechanisms are inhibited, skin cancer may occur.

Why does the skin peel?
Peeling after a sunburn is your body’s way of getting rid of the damaged cells that are at risk of “losing control” and becoming cancerous. Due to this danger, all damaged cells are instructed to commit suicide by repair mechanisms within these cells. This mass suicide of cells results in whole layers of damaged skin peeling off, to be replaced by other cells underneath those layers.

I have a sunburn, what should I do now?
Drink plenty of water, you may be dehydrated. If skin is severely blistered, seek help from a medical practitioner. Otherwise it is important to take down the inflammation and try to reduce damage to the deeper layers of your skin.

  • Take a cool bath (no products added) and then blot skin dry. Avoid greasy creams, which prevent the skin from cooling and may make the situation worse. Apply a soothing after-sun gel to red areas and then stay out of the sun and the heat.
  • Live cultured plain yogurt contains an abundance of probiotics and enzymes that help heal our skin. When you find yourself red and sunburned, it can help you recover faster. Make sure it’s truly plain yogurt, not vanilla, and that it has probiotics. A half cup of plain yogurt should be sufficient to treat facial burns at least, but feel free to use more if you want to cover more area. Wash your hands and apply cool yogurt directly to your burn, and let it sit for at least 5 minutes. When the pain has subsided, gently rinse it off with cool or tepid water.
  • While there is no official research done on how it helps sunburns in particular, there are a vast amount of people out there who swear up and down that vinegar helps heal sunburn, or mildly burned tissue in general. Pure unfiltered apple cider vinegar seems to work the best, and often times proponents of this method say is most effective after a cool or tepid shower. Try this after taking a water only shower if possible. Fill a spray bottle with pure unfiltered apple cider vinegar, and spritz it onto your burn, or soak cotton balls and apply. Let it dry.
  • Mint naturally cools and soothes whatever it touches, and sunburns are no exception. The tannic acid and theobromine found in green tea also helps relieve pain and heal damaged skin when applied topically. Bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Remove the strings and tags from the 5 tea bags and add them, as well as 3 cups of fresh mint leaves, to a pan. Pour the boiling water over the mint leaves and tea bags and cover with a lid, letting is sit for approximately an hour so you can get all the good stuff out of it. Strain and then chill. When the mixture has chilled thoroughly, use cotton pads or a clean soft cloth soaked in the liquid and apply directly to the burn. You can also pour it over the burn if you wish. If you find yourself without green tea you can substitute black tea, which also contains tannins.
  • Also look out for an incredible ingredient called Japanese Alder to accelerate the repair of UV induced DNA damage. Couple this with ingredients such as Algae and Hyaluronic Acid to rehydrate the skin and you should be well on your way to a calmer skin.

A Few Quick Tips

  • Double check your medications. Various antibiotics, allergy medications, sulfonamides, antidepressants, and antifungal medication can make you ultra-sensitive to the sun. Acne medications can make skin more susceptible to burning. Check with your doctor or read the side effects of your medications if you find yourself getting burned easier and on a more frequent basis than usual. It could be that you have to use a little extra protection if you’re compromised due to medicine.
  • To get the most out the SPF (sun protection factor) of your sunscreen, apply it 30 minutes before you even go outside. Don’t neglect sensitive areas like your ears, the back of your neck and shoulders, and the backs of your legs and arms. If you’re sweating or swimming, reapply as needed. Remember, a sunburn doesn’t truly set in until 24 hours after sun exposure, and chances are you’ll be feeling the consequences of not covering up later. I can’t stress this enough, reapply your sunscreen every two hours while in the sun. Even if you don’t swim!
  • While it would be impractical to advise people to stay indoors during the prime hours of the day, keep an eye on what time it is. The sun is the most powerful, and damaging, when around its highest point. Between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm is when it’s at its strongest, so make sure you’re being wise about how you expose yourself.
  • Have fun this summer and be safe!