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Six simple steps to reduce sunburn pain

As heat waves begin to sweep across Britain, the British Skin Foundation (BSF) has issued further advice on what to do if you get sunburnt.

Consultant dermatologist and BSF spokesperson, Dr Anjali Mahto explained: “Sunburn causes direct damage to DNA resulting in inflammation and death of skin cells. The risk is higher at altitude, and sunburn in childhood or adolescence can double the risk of developing melanoma in later life.”

Here are Dr Mahto's six simple steps to reduce the pain from sunburn.

1. Keep it covered
Cover up the affected areas and stay in the shade until your sunburn has healed. Wear loose cotton clothing that allows your skin to “breathe” over the sunburnt areas.

2 Take over-the-counter pain relief
Analgesia or painkillers can help relieve the pain and reduce inflammation caused by sunburn. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are ideal and should be continued for a period of at least 48 hours if there are no contraindications. Paracetamol will help with the pain but has little effect on inflammation.

3 Cool the skin
Apply a cool compress to the skin e.g. a towel dampened with cool water for 15 minutes, or take a cool bath or shower. Aim to keep the temperature just below lukewarm. Make sure the shower has a gentle flow of water rather than being on full power. If blisters are starting to develop, then a bath is preferable. Do not rub your skin with a towel, but gently pat it dry when you get out.

4 Reduce peeling
After a bath or shower, use an un-perfumed cream or lotion to soothe the skin. Repeated applications of this are necessary, possibly for several weeks. Aloe vera or soy-containing gels or lotions can be beneficial in soothing the skin. Using a weak steroid cream such as 0.5-1% hydrocortisone for 48 hours may decrease pain and swelling, but this is best avoided for small children. Be wary of using creams or lotions that contain petroleum, benzocaine, or lidocaine. These can either trap heat in the skin or cause local skin irritation.

5 Leave blisters alone
Try not to pop blisters as this can lead to infection and scarring. They will settle by themselves after a few days. In the meantime, treat the skin gently.

6 Rehydrate
Sunburn can encourage fluid loss through the skin. Drinking plenty of water will prevent dehydration and help your body recover. Alcohol should ideally be avoided during this time as it will make dehydration worse.