How to deal with sunburn

If the recent spell of hot, sunny weather has taught us anything, it’s probably that you don’t have to go abroad to experience the negative effects of too much sun exposure. Staying in the sun for too long without adequate protection can cause a range of issues, including rashes such as prickly heat and a worsening of skin problems such as rosacea.

But arguably the most common side effect of getting too much sun is sunburn. You know you have sunburn when your skin turns red and feels hot and tender. A few days later your skin will start to flake and peel. And while most cases are mild and don’t last for more than about a week, sunburn can lead to more serious problems later on, including premature skin ageing and skin cancer.

The best thing to do about sunburn is to try and avoid it altogether. This doesn’t mean staying indoors all summer, but just taking some simple precautions such as:

  • Spending time in the shade during the hottest part of the day between 11am and 3pm.
  • Wearing protective clothing, including a hat, t-shirt and sunglasses.
  • Using a sun cream with a minimum SPF of 30 and good protection against UVA and IR-A rays (read more about the different sun rays in our Guide to UV and IR-A sun protection).
  • Keeping babies and young children out of direct sunlight.

But despite our best intentions many of us overdo it with sun exposure once in a while. Because we’re not used to the soaring temperatures we’ve had lately in this country, it’s easy to underestimate how strong the sun is. In some situations – where there’s a cool breeze, for instance, or if we’re dipping in and out of the pool – we may even not feel particularly hot. But it doesn’t mean our skin won’t burn.

So what should you do if you end up with a mild case of sunburn?

Here are five tips from the British Association of Dermatologists that you may find useful if you ever get caught short:

  1. Soak your skin in a cool bath, or even with a flannel, as this will temporarily reduce discomfort
  2. Following this use aftersun, calamine lotion, or a light moisturiser – this will help reduce peeling
  3. An anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen, can reduce the pain and redness. If the ibuprofen can be started during or very soon after the exposure, the eventual sunburn may not be so severe. Ask your local Careway pharmacist for more advice.
  4. If you feel dizzy or sick, or if your skin blisters or is badly swollen, you should see your doctor as you may need treatment for dehydration or to prevent infection
  5. Significant or widespread sunburn in children should always be seen by a doctor for immediate medical attention. The same goes for any sunburn in babies. Don’t forget that sunburn is not just a temporary problem – it can lead to skin cancer later in life.

Meanwhile, drink plenty of fluids and try to avoid going back out into the sun or sitting next to a window until your skin has fully healed. If you do have to go out, make sure the affected areas of skin are covered.

If your sunburn is more severe or if you’re worried about it, see your GP or call NHS 111. According to the NHS the signs of severe sunburn can include the following:

  • Skin blisters or swollen skin
  • Chills
  • Fever (38C or higher)
  • Dizziness, headache and feeling sick

If you’re not sure how bad your sunburn is, speak to your local pharmacist. They can give you advice on whether or not you need medical attention, and if you don’t they can recommend over-the-counter products to help make your skin feel more comfortable.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.