Tips on What to Do When You Get a Sunburn

Image of a man applying SPF sunscreen during the day to prevent sunburn

The sun can be amazing! Especially when you step out on a bright summer afternoon, letting those beautiful sun rays hit your body. You shimmer. Your skin glows and radiates. 

But hold up, sunshine. 

As much as we love soaking up those golden rays, sometimes we end up with a not-so-glamorous gift: a sunburn. It starts as a gentle tingle, but before you know it, you are feeling the burn—literally. 

To help you better understand more on sunburns, we've provided practical tips and remedies to soothe your sunburn and get you back to enjoying summer in no time.

What is sunburn?

Sunburn happens when your skin gets too much exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. These UV rays from the sun can damage the DNA in your skin cells, leading to reddish, sometimes blistering burns.

In countries like Nigeria that get super hot during certain seasons, stepping out into that scorching sun can feel like a whole ordeal. Your eyes squint, and your body's like, "Whoa, too much heat. Get me outta here!”

Without any protection, your skin is left vulnerable, and sunburn can sneak up on you. That's why caring for your skin when you're out in such a typical Nigerian sun is super important.

Symptoms of sunburn

A sunburned skin feels like it’s on fire, all tingly and hot, especially when touched. But how rough it feels can vary depending on how badly you got scorched. 

Here's a breakdown of sunburn symptoms based on how intense the burn is:

1. First-degree sunburn symptoms

If you're out in the sun and start feeling a bit pink and tender, that's a first-degree sunburn - it's pretty mild. Symptoms of first-degree sunburn include: 

  • Mild redness
  • Warmth to the touch
  • Tenderness or mild pain
  • Peeling after a few days
  • No blisters

2. Second-degree sunburn symptoms

Second-degree sunburns are the most common type, damaging both the outer layer (epidermis) and the deeper layer (dermis) of your skin. Second-degree sunburn can cause symptoms like:

  • Deep redness or blotchy skin
  • Swelling
  • Blisters that may rupture and ooze
  • Severe pain and discomfort
  • Fever and chills in extreme cases

3. Third-degree sunburn symptoms

A third-degree sunburn is the last and worst stage. This type of burn is super rare and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of third-degree sunburn include:

  • Deep, intense redness or purplish discoloration
  • Severe blistering and skin damage
  • Extreme pain or numbness due to nerve damage
  • Risk of infection due to exposed tissue
  • Immediate medical attention is required

Do dark-skinned people get sunburn?

Yes, they do. Dark-skinned people can definitely get sunburned. It's a common misconception that people with darker skin tones don't need to worry about sunburn, but that's not true. 

While dark-skinned people have more melanin, which provides some natural protection against the sun's harmful rays, it's not a foolproof "no-no." Sunburn can still happen, especially if they spend plenty of time in the sun without sun protection.

Soothing remedies for sunburn

There's no magic pill to cure sunburns. However, there are a few things you can try out to soothe the pain and irritation. Below are a few tips:

1. Stay hydrated

Water does wonders for your skin, and with sunburn, your skin has lost a lot of moisture. So gulping down that H2O helps to rehydrate you from the inside out. It won't make the sunburn disappear like magic, but it will help your body recover faster.

2. Apply a cool compress to your sunburn

Grab a clean cloth, soak it in cool water (not ice-cold water; we don't want to shock the skin), and gently apply it to the affected areas. The cooling sensation will make you feel better right away. You can also add a few drops of soothing essential oils like lavender or chamomile to the water for relaxation vibes.

3. Moisturize your skin

Sunburnt skin is usually dry, so don't skimp a second before grabbing a moisturizer. Look for gentle, fragrance-free lotions or creams that won't irritate your already sensitive skin. Bonus points if they contain ingredients like ceramides or hyaluronic acid to help repair the skin barrier and lock in moisture.

4. Try aloe vera gel

Aloe vera is nature's gift for sunburns. It has soothing properties that can calm down the redness and inflammation. If you have an aloe vera plant at home, even better! Fresh aloe vera gel straight from the plant can be extra soothing. 

If you aren't so fortunate to have one lying around, you can get an aloe vera gel from the mall. However, make sure your pick is free of any added ingredients that might irritate your skin.

5. Pop some pain relievers if needed

If the sunburn is really giving you a hard time and the pain is unbearable, reach for some over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin. They can help take the edge off the pain and reduce inflammation. However, ensure you follow the dosage instructions on the label and check with a doctor if you're unsure of what's safe for you.

Aftercare and healing of sunburn

When dealing with sunburn, it's great to prioritize aftercare. One essential aspect often overlooked is resisting the temptation to peel flaky skin. Although it may seem satisfying to remove peeling skin, it's better to allow it to shed naturally. 

Forceful peeling can cause further irritation and damage to the skin, potentially leading to infection and prolonging the healing process. Instead, focus on adding moisture to the affected area with a soothing lotion or aloe vera gel.

Additionally, keep a close eye on your sunburn for any signs of infection, like increased redness, swelling, warmth, or pus. If you notice these symptoms worsening, don't hesitate to see a doctor promptly for treatment. Also, remember healing sunburn takes time, so be patient. 

Everyone wants to feel and look good, and this desire reflects on how much people are willing to spend on beauty products. Unfortunately, some of these products contain ingredients, chemicals, or irritants that can be harmful to the skin and health in the short or long run.

Preventive measures to avoid sunburn

If you want to keep your skin happy and healthy, it's really important to take preventive measures to avoid sunburn. Below are a few tried-and-tested tips to help you stay sun-safe and enjoy the great outdoors without worries.

Put on sunscreen

Sunscreens should be your best friend when it comes to sun protection. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and reapply it every two hours, especially if you sweat a lot.

Practical Application of sunscreen

You are heading out for your friend's traditional marriage, and you know you'll be out in the sun all day. Before you head out, grab your sunscreen. Pick one that suits your gorgeous skin type and doesn't leave any nasty white cast behind. Now, apply the sunscreen generously on all exposed parts of your skin. And voila! You are all ready to face the sun.

Seek shade

When the sun's rays are blasting down like there's no tomorrow, what do you do? Seek shade! 

The sun is usually strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so watch your clock and try to seek shelter once the time is approaching. You could seek shade under a beach umbrella, a tree, or a shop nearby. This will give your skin a break from direct sunlight.

Cover up your body

Hats, sunglasses, and lightweight, long-sleeved clothing are fantastic for sun protection. Opting for lightweight, long-sleeved garments might seem counterintuitive on a hot day, but they're a lifesaver when it comes to sun protection. 

The key is to choose fabrics that are breathable yet tightly woven to block out UV rays. Fabrics like denim, polyester, and tightly woven cotton offer excellent protection, while sheer or loosely woven fabrics offer minimal defence against the sun.

Additionally, avoid dark clothes on hot days. Darker colors tend to absorb more UV radiation than lighter colors, so consider opting for lighter shades when selecting your sun protection attire.

Plan outdoor activities wisely

If you know you'll be spending a lot of time outdoors, try to schedule your activities for earlier or later in the day when the sun isn't as intense. And don't forget to take regular breaks in the shade to give your skin a chance to cool off.

Wrap up

Getting a sunburn can be heartbreaking sometimes, but don't hit the panic button—it gets the best of us. Simply follow these easy tips we've put together, from soothing remedies to aftercare, and you'll be fully equipped. 

Also, if your symptoms go from bad to worse, don't hesitate to seek medical advice. Your skin deserves the best, so treat it with care and enjoy the sunny days—safely and confidently!