Wild weekend planned? How to prevent and treat a scalding summer sunburn.


I have weirdly fond memories of my first sunburn experience.  After spending an entire day at the community pool for Omeed’s 11th birthday (swimming, movies, and the first of many run-ins with the police), I woke with a strange and inexplicable burning pain in my back and shoulders.  When I told Duy and Omeed about my mysterious pain at school the following week, they just started laughing and showed me their bright red shoulders. I realized the cause of my incredible shoulder pain.  I had a sunburn.  Well, we all had sunburns.  I was excited to learn something new (as this was my first experience), but I couldn’t wait for the pain to go away. In the past 20 years, I’ve learned a lot about sunburns and how to treat them, but they still remind me of my first time experiencing that awful pain.


As the peak of summer approaches, the overbearing heat is a constant reminder to keep the sunscreen flowing.  The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) reports an estimated 1 in 3 adults receiving sunburns every year [1] .  Here are some key ways to prevent a sunburn while enjoying Apollo’s chariot:

A. Physical Barriers: Stay out of direct sunlight. Stay in the shade. Wear a hat and loose, breathable clothing that covers your skin. Of course, if you spent all Winter working out in preparation for bikini season, this option is just plain silly.

B. Chemical Barriers: If you’re part of the “sun’s out, guns out” crew avoiding option A, The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone use sunscreen that offers the following:

  • Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays).
  • Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or greater.
  • Water resistance. [2]

ADA sunscreen1

C. Au Naturel: For the nature-lovers, if you just rub your hands on some aspen tree bark, you can spread the white powder from the bark onto your skin and get about SPF 5. If you cover yourself in mud, you’ll have an excellent sun barrier. You also have the added benefit of how ridiculously good you look covered in mud; it really brings out the color of your eyes. Just do everyone a favor and stay out of the pool if you’re using mud instead of sunscreen.

If you happen to end up with a sunburn, it’s good to know that most sunburns can be treated at home.


Wash the area with cool water and apply aloe vera gel or a soy-based moisturizer to the affected areas. The less preservatives and artificial ingredients the better.  These are naturally moisturizing products and will help your skin retain moisture, helping it to heal.  If you feel burning or itching, multiple cool (not cold!) showers or baths will help relieve some of the irritation.

Avoid using petroleum oil (Vasoline), as this can prevent proper recovery of your skin while trapping additional heat. [3]

Most sunburns will heal within a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of the burn and how you take care of it. Let it be a reminder to practice proper prevention techniques going forward.  For me, one fond(ish) memory of a sunburn is enough!

Stay safe and make some good memories of your summer!




  1. Saraiya, M., Balluz, L., Wen, X.J., and Joseph, D.A. Sunburn prevalence among adults–United States, 1999, 2003, and 2004. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2007; 56: 524–528
  2. https://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs
  3. https://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/for-kids/about-skin/skin-cancer/treating-sunburn


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