When you are exposed to the sun for too long, the melanocytes that give your skin its tanned appearance can no longer absorb the ultraviolet radiation. As a result, you experience a sunburn, which can be painful if left untreated. Taking care of your skin properly after a sunburn develops is important to a speedy recovery.
Just as a tan takes several hours to develop after you've come in from the sun, so does a sunburn. Sunburns may take two to four hours after sun exposure to fully develop. If you were exposed to the sun for an excessively long period, blistering may begin as well. After 24 hours, you may notice that the skin begins to itch and that you are experiencing a general feeling of discomfort.
After the initial 24 hours, you may begin to notice that some of the warmth is subsiding. At this point, you should try to minimize skin swelling and replace fluids you may have lost as your skin is working to repair itself. The University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics recommends taking ibuprofen or aspirin for up to three days after your sunburn’s onset to reduce pain. You also may be able to take a cool shower or bath after the first 24-hour period to soothe the skin. But if your skin remains too sensitive or you're experiencing blisters, refrain from showering.
Itching sets in about a day or two after a sunburn’s onset. Apply an itch reliever, such as calamine lotion, to reduce itching and minimize skin peeling. If you are prone to scratching while you sleep, you may need to wear cotton mittens or gloves. You also can apply a moisturizer, such as aloe, twice daily to keep the skin softened and to reduce peeling, according to natural health website Health 911. Care for any blisters by applying an antibiotic ointment to them two or three times a day. Don't pop the blisters, as this could lead to infection.
Each time you experience a sunburn, you increase your risk for skin cancer and premature skin aging due to sun damage. Prevent sunburns in the future by wearing a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher and reapplying it frequently. This will eliminate the need for care of painful sunburns.
After the first 24 hours, your sunburn symptoms should improve, not worsen. If your blisters are growing increasingly red or oozing a thick, yellow discharge, you should seek medical attention. Because skin blistering indicates a second-degree burn, your doctor may recommend stronger topical or oral medications to fight infection.