The best way to treat a sunburn

What to do when you get burnt and how to protect your skin on even the sunniest days.

Illustration, iStockphoto.

Illustration, iStockphoto.

You won’t see how extensive a sunburn is until 24 hours after it’s happened, says Mississauga-based pharmacist Tommy Lam. During that time, try to soothe the area by running cool water on it — 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off. If the skin isn’t broken, you can moisturize with aloe vera cream. “If the sunburn is blistering (which means the skin is broken) or on a very large area (over 25 percent of your body), that’s a good time to see a doctor,” Lam says. “Like any burn, a sunburn can easily become infected.”

While the pain and redness of a sunburn is temporary, skin damage is permanent. Your skin may start to peel after a few days, but if the burn is more severe, it can lead to sun poisoning, which includes fever, chills, extreme thirst, nausea or painful blisters and requires medical attention.

Last year a study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found Caucasian women who get five or more blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 have an 80 percent increased risk for melanoma and a 68 percent greater risk for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. To keep your skin safe, wear light, protective clothing, broad-spectrum sunscreen and sunglasses when the UV index is 3 or higher. It’s also a good idea to stay out of the sun when your shadow is shorter than you are because that’s when the sun is at its strongest (between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.).

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This article was originally published in Canadian Health & Lifestyle magazine.