Some sunburns can be so severe they cause blistering. Local dermatologist say sunburn treatment is about keeping cool. Metro Creative Graphics
By Shelley Byrne
Got a little too much sun?
Dr. Evelyn Jones, a Paducah dermatologist, said sunburn treatment is about keeping cool.
Most sunburns are first-degree burns, which include redness and some peeling, but no blistering. Jones recommends cool baths, wet, cool clothing, cool compresses and over-the-counter moisturizers such as a hydrocortizone cream. For greater relief, try refrigerating lotion before dabbing it onto your skin, she said. Ibuprofen can provide some pain relief.
Second-degree sunburns include blistering. A doctor may need to treat the burn if it is over a large area of skin, Jone said. Anyone with a headache, fever or chills should definitely see a doctor, she said. Any sunburn is an emergency on a baby under 6 months old, she added.
Blistering over a small area may not require medical treatment, but Jones recommends covering the area with wet gauze to protect it and keep it moist.
“Never break the blisters,” Jones said. “They’re a natural protection for the underlying skin to heal.”
The blisters also help prevent infection, she said.
Jones also suggests that anyone with a peeling sunburn not try to remove the peeling skin.
“It’s better if you let that come off on its own because what happens is you will peel off good epidermis (the top layer of skin) with the rest,” she said.
Some of the best sunburn treatments are by prescription, Jones said. Biafine healing lotion is a newer product, but one that works.
“That will calm down the redness quicker than just about anything I’ve seen,” Jones said.
She also recommended a thermal spring water from Avene.
For those who would rather avoid the doctor, Aloe Vera gel is an anti-inflammatory that may help. Some people with sensitive skin may experience a burning sensation, however. If it burns or stings, wash it off, Jones said.
Avoid any creams that end in the suffix “caine,” such as lydocaine or benzocaine.
“People will think that will numb it and make it not hurt, but that’s a chemical that many people will get a sensitivity to, and we don’t want people using it on damaged skin,” she said.
Some home remedies may also help as well.
“Milk and oatmeal are both soothing,” Jones said. “Taking an oatmeal bath with milk in it or making compresses with oatmeal in it are definitely going to be beneficial.”
Even a washcloth or paper towel soaked in milk may help to cool the burn. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a New York-based organization that seeks to reduce skin cancer risks, the milk creates a protein film that helps because sunburn actually cooks the protein in the skin.
Jones does not recommend applying vinegar, which is a popular remedy on the internet. “I’ve had a few patients react to that,” she said.
Of course, the best plan of action is not to get a sunburn at all.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, later in life. A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he has had five or more sunburns in a lifetime.
The statistics are particularly concerning since a survey the Skin Cancer Foundation conducted with the iVillage website indicated 42 percent of those polled get a sunburn at least once a year.
Jones recommends a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.
“SPF 30 protects us from 98 percent of ultraviolet rays,” she said. “Over that is really more marketing and more money and really no more benefit.”
Most people don’t use enough sunscreen, she said. She advocates applying an entire ounce at a time. When in the sun, it should be reapplied every hour, she said.
Children younger than six months should not wear sunscreen at all because the chemicals in it could cause the child to develop a skin sensitivity. Instead, Jones said, choose clothing with ultraviolet protective clothing, such as those from Royal Robbins and Coolibar. A swim shirt can help prevent burning on common areas such as the neck and shoulders.
Sunburn may not show up to its fullest extent for 24 hours. Parents should make sure children spend limited periods in the sun, especially during the hottest part of the day, Jones said. “Don’t wait until you see them turning pink. That’s too late.”
Contact Shelley Byrne, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8667.