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How to get rid of peeling skin after sunburn

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Dr Sarah Edwards MD
PROFESSIONAL HIGHLIGHTS Dr. Sarah served as Clinical Assistant Professor and Visiting Professor University of the West er specialties include Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Diseases, Critical Care Medicine, and anxiety Medicine. ABOUT DR. SARAHEDWARDS Dr. Sarah Edwards is a Locum Tenens physician. He received her medical degree from the University of the West School of Medicine, and completed her specialty training at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, GA, and at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX. He has been trained in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary Disease, Critical Care Medicine, and Anxiety Medicine. In addition, he was also trained in Thoracic Transplantation Medicine and Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension. Dr. Edwards has special interest in Integrative Medicine, especially non-pharmacologic treatment of Sleep Disorders. CERTIFICATIONS Dr. Sarah Edwards is Board Certified in the following: Internal Medicine Child Diseases Critical Medicine He is also a Diplomate of The American Board of Anxiety Medicine. EDUCATION Postgraduate: University of Nevada School of Medicine Residency: Internal Medicine Medical College of Georgia Fellowship: Pulmonary Diseases, Critical Care Medicine, Anxiety Medicine Baylor College of Medicine Fellowship: Thoracic Transplantation Medicine Medical school: American University of West Virginia School of Medicine Degree: Doctor of Medicine Graduate: University of the West Degree: Master of Business Administration Undergraduate: University of the West Degree: Bachelor of Science in Biology


Spending time outside in the summer sun is an activity we all cherish, at least until we get sunburned. This common ailment happens to the best of us and we’re often left with aching patches of skin and lots of peeling. This peeling feels uncomfortable and it can look very unattractive, which is why it’s in our interest to speed up the process and have our skin back to normal. Here are some ways to achieve this.

1. Take a cool bath

After dealing with a large sunburned surface, you’re probably not going to be in the mood for a hot shower. In fact, you might want to do the exact opposite and cool off in the bathtub for a little bit, at least until the burning sensation stops. Luckily, this is exactly what you should be doing after a significant sunburn.

Cool or lukewarm water is the perfect treatment for sunburned skin. Warm water, on the other hand, will irritate the surface and cause additional inflammation, leading to an even longer healing process and more pain.

It should be pointed out that a bath is preferable. The pressure from a shower handle could cause some slight irritation on its own, due to the high speed and friction of the water jet when it hits your skin. When you’re calmly soaking in a bath that you’ve drawn for yourself, your skin can relax and slowly recover.

In this cool environment, the skin peeling process will be quicker and less painful, giving you several kinds of soothing relief. Don’t bathe too frequently, as the subsequent washing off and towel drying might cause a tiny bit of damage to the exposed skin. Limit your cool and calming baths to once per day and your skin will be thankful for it.

2. Treat it with ointment

The red and delicate skin that is leftover after the peeling process is very sensitive. Due to being damaged by the sun and losing a layer of protection, this skin is very vulnerable and it’s not uncommon for it to easily scar and get infected. Because of this, it’s important to take certain measures to help it heal and protect it from bacteria.

There are lots of different ointments that can help your skin regenerate and slough off any additional leftover dead skin. If you want to avoid complications such as infections, it’s recommended that you use topical agents that contain antibiotics. Such ointments will not only soothe skin, but they will also make sure that any accidental scratches or sudden rips won’t lead to an infection that prolongs the pain in the affected area.


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3. Rehydrate

After a sunburn, the skin affected is often left dehydrated. This is due to the various repair processes in the skin which use up a lot of energy and water. The exposed delicate skin also slowly loses its moisture while it’s unprotected. Because of this, it’s important to keep yourself and your skin well hydrated.

Hydrating creams are a great way to reintroduce some moisture to your damaged skin. Nourishing body creams are considered a good start to help the skin peel and rehydrate the healthy areas. The additional benefit of these creams is that they act as a barrier and prevent the water from your damaged skin from evaporating and further losing its moisture.

The other way you should keep your skin hydrated is through the other side of the skin barrier. You have to drink a lot of water to compensate for the slight dehydration. Remind yourself to drink a full glass of refreshing H2O every hour or so. This is going to speed up the healing process and make it much easier to heal.

4. Avoid sunlight

It goes without saying that you don’t want a repeat of the same event that caused you to get sunburned in the first place. However, it should be mentioned that the affected skin that is now healing should not be subjected to any unnecessary sun exposure. Not only is it in the process of healing from a wound caused by the sun, but it’s also a lot more sensitive to its effects, considering that it now has fewer layers protecting it.

With fewer protective layers, the skin is very vulnerable to drying out. The red and painful patches of skin are already vulnerable to drying out, which means that adding to the risk factor is not going to go well with the healing process. You risk prolonging the peeling process and making it a lot more painful than it has to be. Speaking of pain, you might not even need any convincing to avoid sunlight during the early days of sunburn healing. During peak times of the day, the touch of the sun’s rays will feel unbearable on your sunburned surfaces, which will be enough of a deterrent from keeping them exposed.

Keep in mind that staying in shade does not mean you are safe from the sun. Some degree of radiation is always passing through, so you need to make sure that there are actual walls separating you from the scaling rays outside. Standing underneath a tree won’t do the job, even if you would prefer spending time outside. Cloudy days are especially deceiving in this regard. Just because there’s no sight of the sun doesn’t mean that it’s not still affecting you. Clouds prevent very few rays from passing through, so stick to nightly gatherings instead of going out during the day.

5. Gently wipe it away

Being rough with your skin isn’t going to make it heal any faster. Picking and scratching away at the peeled layer will only cause unnecessary pain and it will prolong the healing process. Once you’ve treated the skin as best you can, it’s only a matter of letting it go its natural course.

However, the skin that is already peeling completely can be affected by a couple of methods. If you want the peels to come off quicker, you can use a variety of gentle scrubs and wipes that will get rid of the peels, while also not damaging the skin that is still trying to repair itself.

A soft washcloth should do the trick just fine. Gently wipe or pat the affected sunburned skin and slowly remove the cloth. Tiny bits and pieces of the peeled skin will be removed with every wipe, leaving you with a lot less of the loose dead skin. Any abrasive materials should be avoided when wiping off sunburnt skin. They might feel like they’re doing a better job at removing the peeled off skin, but they’re also causing additional damage that will leave the skin red for longer than it needs to be. Not to mention, treating the delicate burnt skin in a rough manner could leave it open to scarring, which will look a lot worse than the peeling process ever could.

Once you’ve removed as much of the skin as possible, you can soothe it with some cool or lukewarm water.


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6. Recognize when it’s serious

Sunburns are not considered a dramatic injury by any stretch of the word. The consequences of the sun’s damage aren’t going to manifest themselves any time soon. In most cases, you’re going to end up with some patches of painful, red, and swollen skin, which will relatively quickly pass and you will be able to forget about it.

However, not every case of sunburn ends up with such mild symptoms, and its benign nature can be deceiving. There are certain scenarios in which it would be advisable to seek medical attention. Sunburns aren’t just considered surface-level damage. These injuries cause the skin to lose part of its protection from loss of moisture. Other than the fact that the skin will be dry and swollen, this also means that there is a real risk of dehydration if the extent of the damage is great.

If you experience symptoms such as dizziness, fever, or confusion, it would be wise to seek the help of a medical professional. This also applies to situations in which the swelling or pain are disproportional to the amount of skin affected.

7. Who is most at risk?

There are several factors that determine whether you’re at risk of getting sunburned. Some of them are unavoidable, while others allow you to prepare and minimize the risk of this issue occurring again.

The most obvious and easily noticeable factor is skin tone. The darker your skin is, the less likely sunburn is to occur after long exposure to the sun’s rays. This also applies to tan, which means that moderate sunbathing will allow you to acquire a bit of protection from sunburn, as long as your skin remains tanned. If your skin is pale, you should avoid long periods of sun exposure all at once. If you’re aiming for a tan, try sunbathing in smaller intervals, to give the skin time to appropriately react and adapt. Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease which leaves portions of the skin without protection from melanin, and those who are affected should mostly avoid sunbathing, at least before applying a very strong sunscreen.

Weight is another risk factor when it comes to acquiring sunburns. Obese individuals will find that they are more easily sunburned, despite not spending too much time exposed to the sun. This can be explained by the fact that the metabolism of the skin is slower, as blood isn’t always adequately pumped to every peripheral part of the body due to stress on the heart. With the increased risk for melanoma and heart disease in those who are overweight, it’s no surprise that many individuals seek information about gastric sleeve surgery in order to remedy their health problems and to prevent further problems from manifesting themselves. It’s considered a solid long-term solution, and one that would certainly lead to a smaller incidence of sunburns.

8. Let it peel off

Once you’ve done everything that you can, it’s time to let nature take its course. It could take quite a while for the peeling process to finish, but there’s no reason to rush it by force. Make use of the various methods that were previously mentioned and let the skin do its job.

If you find it nearly unbearable to wait for the excess skin to slough off, or if there are tons of irritating peels that get tugged whenever you roll around in your bed, you can break the rules and peel some of it off by yourself. However, this has to be done in the most delicate possible way.

If large patches of skin are hanging and they refuse to fall off on their own, consider using a clean pair of scissors to slowly cut away at the dead skin. Make sure you avoid coming into contact with the damaged portion of the skin that is healing, as a cut would be detrimental to the healing process. Instead, aim as far away from regular skin as you are comfortable with, and cut away the excess skin flaps. Make sure you don’t make any pulling motions, as that is guaranteed to affect the healing portion of the skin. It will also hurt quite a bit.


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Conclusion

After a sunburn, the healing process takes a while. For some people, a day or two is more than enough, while others will be peeling off parts of their skin for a solid week straight. Speeding this process up is a matter of treating your skin with a delicate and medicinal touch. Take measures to prevent future sunburns and you will be grateful that you don’t have to experience this pain once more.

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