Whether you’re barbecuing in your backyard or catching up on reading at the beach, you’re bound to be exposing some bare limbs this Independence Day weekend. You should always apply, and re-apply SPF, when you’re outside (or even inside by a window), but if you find yourself with a sunburn, there are some emergency measures you can take to save your skin. Most sunburns can be treated at home, but if you have blisters on over 20 percent of your body or any internal symptoms (like nausea or chills), see a doctor immediately. Getting a sunburn isn’t just physically painful — it will also hurt you in the long run, too. We spoke with Manhattan-based dermatologists Dr. Sejal Shah and Dr. Michael Shapiro for the best S.O.S. (Save Our Skin) tips if you do get burned.
If you think you are getting burned, get out of the sun. As soon as you notice signs of sunburn, even just redness, get out of the sun to stop further damage. Dr. Shah recommends cooling down the skin with a cool bath, cool compresses, or aloe vera (which has anti-inflammatory properties). She’s also a fan of the Avène Thermal Spring Water ($9) to cool and calm the skin.
Stay hydrated. Try drinking water and moisturizing your skin to combat the drying effects of sun exposure. “I recommend applying the moisturizer while the skin is still slightly damp,” Dr. Shah tells Yahoo Beauty. Products recommended by Dr. Shah that are hydrating and soothing are First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream ($30), Avène Cicalfate Restorative Skin Cream ($28), Clinique After Sun Rescue Balm with Aloe ($23), or Cerave Moisturizing Cream ($16). Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like hydrocortisone and ibuprofen can also help reduce discomfort. Dr. Shah emphasizes that after-sun products will not reverse the sun’s damage, but they lock in moisture and restore the dead skin cells, helping with new skin cell turnover.
Avoid certain products. Steer clear of products that dry or irritate your skin because that can worsen your sunburn. Dr. Shah advises that you don’t use drying or harsh soaps, petroleum (no Vaseline!) because it traps heat in the skin, or anesthetic drugs like benzocaine and lidocaine, which can cause irritation and allergic reactions. Dr. Shapiro also notes that tight or rough clothing, hot water, and anything with a textured surface will aggravate sunburn as well.
Burning and tanning are both bad. Dr. Shah tells Yahoo Beauty that both sunburns and suntans are indications that the sun is being damaged by harmful ultraviolet radiation. “The skin can develop wrinkles, skin sagging, discoloration and brown spots, or a leathery look, but the most dangerous thing that can happen is skin cancer,” she warns. So don’t be fooled into thinking that a tan is better than a burn. Stay away from both. Instead, follow Dr. Shah’s advice: “Use sunscreen, sun protective clothing, hats and sunglasses, and seek shade, especially when the sun is the strongest during the day.” Dr. Shapiro recommends broad-spectrum sunblock of at least SPF 30 — and remember to reapply every two hours or less.
Get regular checkups with your dermatologist. “You should be getting your skin screened no matter if you have sunburns or not. Skin cancer is too risky to mess with,” says Dr. Shapiro.