You may be inclined to reach for the lotion, but there’s actually a better plan of action.
By now you’re probably aware that skin cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer in the U.S., affecting one in five people, according to the American Cancer Society. Beyond that, sun damage can also age you like crazy.
But, we’re all human and sometimes burns happen. Whether you fell asleep or forgot to apply SPF post-pool, you’re now feeling the burn in the worst way possible—so what now? You may be inclined to reach for the lotion, but there’s actually a better plan of action.
Treating a sunburn should actually be done in two phases, says Josh Zeichner, M.D. The first treatment phase should be done immediately post-burn and the second should come hours later.
“Immediately after a burn, the goal is to improve skin hydration and reduce inflammation,” he says. Here, you want to make sure you’re avoiding products that are heavy or potentially blocking, like heavey cream lotions, because they’ll trap the heat in the skin.
Ideally, you want to apply an aloe product that contains post-sun gels immediately after a burn because they’re light and breathable, allowing heat to escape the skin, says Zeichner.
If you don’t have any aloe on hand, milk compresses are a great DIY burn treatment, he says. To treat, mix skim milk and ice cubes in a bowl, soak a washcloth in the mixture, and apply to the skin until it gets warm, then repeat. “Proteins in the milk soothe and calm inflamed skin,” he says.
At this point, you’ll also want to begin treating the burn from the inside out. To reduce inflammation from within, Zeichner recommends taking an aspirin or other NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug).
After the initial burn has calmed down, probably by the next day, the skin barrier is still technically disrupted. This is what leads to skin peeling and dryness, says Zechner. “I recommend petrolatum-based products to protect the skin,” he says. “The newest generation of lotions, like Vaseline Intensive Care Lotion are still based on triple purified petrolatum but are not greasy and are easy to spread.”
In the case of blistering burns, you should visit your dermatologist or an urgent care center. Any open, raw skin may need topical antibiotic ointments, prescription burn creams, or even prescription anti-inflammatory medications by mouth, says Zeichner.
Just remember next time you hit the beach to bring a hat…or an umbrella…or both!