You were out on the boat all day, you forgot to reapply sunscreen, and before you knew it, you scored a nasty sunburn. Or maybe you were just mowing the lawn for an hour – maybe it was even cloudy – and it didn't even cross your mind to put on sunscreen. Now you're scorched.
No matter how many times we're told we should use sunscreen every day, sometimes we fail. And when that happens, and your skin is blazing red, you've got to treat it. "Sunburn may seem like just a temporary situation," says Dr. Robert Friedman, a dermatologist at New York University's Langone Medical Center. "It looks bad, it hurts, it peels, but it can also cause long-lasting damage to the skin, such as wrinkles or even skin cancer."
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That's because sunburn directly damages the DNA of skin cells, says Dr. Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist in New York City. "Although prevention is best, if you quickly treat a sunburn, you might have a shot at minimizing the damage done to the cells," Bowe says. "You want to help the skin repair itself as quickly as possible." Here's what to do.
Assess the Damage
Most sunburns aren't severe enough to send you to the ER. Even if a couple of small blisters pop up, it's usually safe to treat the burn at home. "But if you develop blisters on more than 20 percent of your body, seek medical attention immediately," says Bowe. You should also head to the hospital if you feel nauseous, get intense chills, or run a fever.
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