How To Deal When You Get a Sunburn
by Maggie Boyle
For many of us, the sun can be just as much our best friend as it can be our worst enemy. Feeling the wrath of an awful sunburn after skipping sunblock because you were just trying to “get some color” is arguably one of the most treacherous things that can happen to your skin.
After a few beachy cocktails, lathering up in sunscreen may be the last thing on your mind, but it’s a crucial skin step worth remembering, especially when tomorrow rolls around and suddenly you’re redder than a tomato and everything hurts. While putting on sunscreen is the obvious solution to preventing a sunburn, there are an overwhelming number of choices out there. How do you know what kind to use?! Which SPF is best?! How much do you apply?! What do you do if you start to peel?!!?
Luckily, Dr. Michele J. Farber of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC is here to answer all of our *burning* questions. I also shared my summer makeup staples which, paired with sunscreen (obv), have me living my best life.
Milk Makeup: What lasting effects can a bad sunburn have on your skin?
Dr. Michele J. Farber: A bad sunburn can be significant for your skin. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood doubles melanoma risk. Repeated, consistent sun exposure is associated with skin cancer, particularly squamous cell skin cancer (read all about that here). Additionally, bad burns lead to sun spots and quicker aging.
MMU: What is your advice for anyone whose skin has begun to peel?
Dr. Farber: NO PICKING! Moisturize your skin, hydrate, take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to decrease inflammation if you are in pain, and if you feel weak or very dehydrated, seek medical attention. And protect your skin if you are out again — seek shade, lather up in sunscreen, and wear hats and sun protective clothing as your skin is more sensitive to the sun than usual.
MMU: What skin types need to be extra-cautious when spending a day in the sun?
Dr. Farber: While everyone should use their sunscreen and be careful with sun safety, very fair people burn more quickly and need to be extra careful. Features like red hair and freckles are also signs of increased sun sensitivity.
MMU: How often should you apply sunscreen throughout the day? How much do you apply?
Dr. Farber: You need 1 ounce — enough to fill a shot glass. Most adults do not use nearly enough. Also, reapply every 2 hours or with any water activity or sweating.
MMU: What SPF number do you generally recommend? Does the SPF number matter? Is higher better?
Dr. Farber: SPF 30 or above is a must. Higher does block out slightly higher percentages of UV rays, so it is helpful to use SPF greater than 30.
Read all about the SPF spectrum here.
MMU: Does sunscreen expire?
Dr. Farber: Yes, sunscreen expires usually after about 3 years. However, if you notice the contents separating or looking different than their original color, it’s likely time to throw them out.
MMU: Can you take me through what to do when you know you’ve been sunburned? What are the aftercare steps from right when it happens to how care for it over time?
Dr. Farber: If your skin is red, painful, itchy in the sun, or turns white when you touch it, you’re burned. Treat with moisturizer or aloe, NSAIDS if you are very inflamed, and hydrate! You should immediately seek medical attention if you have fever, chills, or feel otherwise unwell.
MMU: Do cooling products help?
Dr. Farber: Cooling creams can be helpful to decrease inflammation. Think moisturizers and aloe. Lidocaine or products with numbing may burn so avoid these.
MMU: Does makeup with SPF work, or should you still be applying sunscreen every day?
Dr. Farber: If it is SPF 30 or above and has broad-spectrum coverage, a combination product is fine. There are many new cosmeceuticals that double as makeup and SPF or tinted moisturizer with SPF, and as long as the SPF factor is there, you’re fine. However, if you’re spending the day at the beach or in the hot sun, use regular sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply every 2 hours.
MMU: What’s the difference between sunscreen and sunblock?
Dr. Farber: Sunscreen refers to the chemical blockers for that absorb sunlight, while sunblock refers to the physical blockers that reflect sunlight as their mechanism of protection (think zinc oxide and titanium dioxide).
MMU: Is there any way to speed up a sunburn’s healing process?
Dr. Farber: Moisturize, hydrate, and use ointment on any areas that blister. Baby your skin — lay off of your regular routine and stick to just moisturizer. Also, take NSAIDs to relieve pain and inflammation.
With all of this knowledge in hand, I now have a foolproof routine that helps me avoid making the same skin mistakes that I’ve made in past summers, starting with sunscreen, of course. My makeup routine definitely changes in the summer, too. As an Irish gal with fair skin, my skin is generally red and flushed (even after a winter spent indoors), so while I’d like to wear sunscreen without foundation, I prefer some light coverage. That’s why my go-to summer foundation is Milk Makeup Sunshine Skin Tint. The name says it all! Its preservative-free, natural oil-infused formula stays extra fresh thanks to innovative packaging that uses antimicrobial silver to keep bacteria at bay. Most importantly, it has SPF 30 and leaves a dewy finish by hydrating skin with avocado, grape, olive and mandarin oils. And, I always keep one product in my bag for extra hot days: Cooling Water. Made with energizing caffeine, soothing seawater, and rich marine minerals, Cooling Water instantly refreshes my skin and leaves it feeling cool, de-puffed, and refreshed… like a popsicle for my face.