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You Got Burned. Now What?

You didn't mean to do it but the damage is done.
Your skin is blazing red from bad sunburn and what's worse, it really hurts.

Posted by Fredric Haberman, MD on July 10, 2018


So we asked to Dr. Fredric Haberman, Chief of Dermatology at Holy Name Medical Center and one of the pioneers of the American Academy of Dermatology SPOTme® Skin Cancer Screening Program, about the best way to care for a bad burn.

Dr. Fredric Haberman

"This time of year, when the sun is really strong and we're all outdoors, it happens. Maybe you forgot to re-apply protection and fell asleep on the beach, whatever the reason, there are things you can do to minimize the harm," says Dr. Haberman.

Get Out and Stay Out

First and foremost, he says, get out of the sun and stay out of it for a couple of days to avoid further damage. The redness associated with sunburn is actually caused by extra blood in the capillaries and is your skin's response to UV exposure.

Drink Up

Next, drink lots of fluids. "Your skin will be severely dehydrated from sunburn so you want to drink a rehydration fluid such as Gatorade or Powerade and/or water, but stay away from alcohol because it will only dehydrate you more," explains Dr. Haberman.

Moisturize Correctly

Your skin needs moisture to heal both internally and externally, but be very careful with the products you choose to apply, says Dr. Haberman. Some ingredients may do more harm than good. Aloe has anti-inflammatory properties, however, using a scented aloe can irritate skin even more. Stick to using fragrance-free and alcohol-free moisturizers, he recommends.


"After a bad burn, your skin also needs to breathe so avoid wearing tight clothing and make-up. Exfoliating, whether with a brush or products containing glycolic acid or retinoid, can be extremely damaging to burnt skin," says Dr. Haberman, who recommends applying a soothing vitamin C serum.

Oil Up

"Oils, like Bio-Oil, which contain antioxidants that neutralize damage and free radicals, while promoting rejuvenation, can be very calming and help minimize future damage caused by the burn, like wrinkles and skin sagging," he explains.

Dunk It

While your first instinct may be to take a dip in the pool or run in the ocean to cool your skin off, Dr. Haberman recommends against this. "The pool will contain chlorine and the ocean has salt; both will irritate a burn. Your best bet is to soak in cool water baths with one to two cups of apple cider vinegar," he says. "The apple cider vinegar will help to restore the skin's pH level and reduce inflammation."

Leave It Alone

If your skin starts to blister or peel, don't touch it, as you run the risk of increasing an infection. "The peeling skin is a natural bandage and will come off when the skin underneath it begins to heal, so leave it alone," says Dr. Haberman.

See a Doctor

If you've burned more than 20 percent of your body or are suffering severe pain, along with feeling feverish, nauseous, or confused, Dr. Haberman suggests seeking medical attention because you may be experiencing sun poisoning. "This is pretty serious stuff and you might need a steroid cream to reduce the swelling and inflammation, or your doctor might even need to prescribe a course of oral steroids," he says.

Avoid It

Of course, the most beneficial treatment of all, says Dr. Haberman, is to avoid sunburn in the first place. "There is no such thing as a safe tan," says Dr. Haberman.

Apply broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, or better yet, says Dr. Haberman, wear sun protective clothing including a large had with a large brim. "While you might think the damage from bad sunburn is temporary, know this, your risk for melanoma doubles if you've had more than five sunburns," says Dr. Haberman.

So, use your head, don't get red, and if you or someone you love has not been screened for skin cancer, please do so. The Patricia Lynch Cancer Center at Holy Name Medical Center is located at 718 Teaneck Road, Teaneck, NJ 07666. For more information or to schedule an appointment for a skin cancer screening- please call 201-833-3336.