When you're visiting a sunny destination and enjoying the outdoors, suffering a sunburn is – in theory – entirely avoidable. Nonetheless, it's a common affliction, and even the most diligent hat-wearing, SPF-applying, covered-up travelers can easily acquire painful patches of red, sun-scorched skin. Some of the worst sunburns result in skin peeling, which can be itchy and almost impossible to leave alone. Know that dermatologists recommend that you do not try to remove peeling skin after experiencing a sunburn. However, there are some safe remedies that will help to ease soreness and speed up healing.
Dermatologists agree that you should not scratch or peel off your damaged skin after experiencing a sunburn with peeling. Let the dead skin come off on its own.
Understanding Sunburn and Peeling
Suffering from a sunburn means that the upper layer of the skin, the epidermis, has been damaged by the sun's UV rays. In bad cases of sunburn, the body has a process to rid itself of damaged skin cells – peeling. Within three to four days after being burned, the body will start to build a new layer of skin underneath the damaged skin. When the new skin is fully developed, the damaged, outer layer is shed in the form of peeling skin. In most cases this process takes about a week, but it can take longer with more severe sunburns.
Seek medical attention if you have symptoms of a severe sunburn, which include redness and peeling over large areas (such as your whole back), blistering, fever or chills and dizziness or confusion.
Should I Remove Peeling Skin?
Dermatologists universally recommend against removing sunburned skin by peeling or scratching it off. You should also avoid using rough washcloths, loofahs or exfoliating treatments, and instead just allow the dead, peeling skin to fall off on its own. The reason is that by peeling the damaged skin off before it's ready to fall off naturally, you are exposing the new skin underneath too soon, putting it at risk for infection. If you break the barrier of the skin, bacteria can enter your body. Signs of infection include red streaks and oozing pus. Removing peeling skin also comes with an increased risk of scarring.
How to Relieve Peeling Skin
If your sunburn and peeling skin is painful, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever to help with the soreness and inflammation. You can also relieve pain and itching, and help speed up healing, by moisturizing the skin with an anti-inflammatory lotion such as aloe vera or 1 percent cortisone cream. Dermatologists say not to use oil- or petroleum-based lotions, such as coconut oil or Vaseline, as these can trap the heat in your skin and make a sunburn worse.
Take a cool bath or shower to cool down your skin. If you shower, avoid directly spraying the burned area, which can be sore. Don't use harsh soaps or any oils on the affected area. After bathing, apply your choice of lotion to still-damp skin for better absorption. If you need to dry the sunburned area, gently pat it with a soft towel, rather than rubbing.
If you need to go out in the sun again while still healing from a sunburn, cover up the affected area with clothing whenever possible. Otherwise, apply a thin layer of high-SPF sunscreen over the burned skin, along with all other exposed skin. Finally, stay hydrated, which will help to reduce the peeling and speed along the healing of your skin.