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.
Don't Get Burned Twice
Don't let yourself forget how much sunburn sucks. Use your current misery as motivation to get in the habit of applying broad-spectrum sunblock every day, especially through the rest of the summer. Look for one that is SPF 30 to 50, guards against both burn-causing UVB rays and wrinkle- and cancer-causing UVA rays, and is water-resistant so it'll stay put when you sweat or swim. Mineral-based blocks with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide tend to work best. Apply 15 minutes before heading outside, and reapply every two hours.
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