Have you taken care of your skin when it comes to the sun?

How can we recover from sunburn?


Summer is certainly a glorious time here in Australia. Not only does it coincide with Christmas and the New Year, but it also heralds the beginning of long, hot days under the sun with family and friends.

As we swim in the sea or laze in the local park, however, it is all too easy to lose track of time and forget to be vigilant with our sun protection. If you miss a spot with your SPF 50+ sunscreen, the result can be the painful phenomenon we know as sunburn, which can sometimes prove difficult to manage in the following days.

Let’s take a look at how you can help your skin to recover from ultraviolet (UV) damage.

What happens when we get sunburned?

A sunburn is a result of ultraviolet (UVR) exposure and is an indication of severe trauma to our skin cells, particularly the cell DNA. This kind of damage can start to occur in as little as 10 minutes of intense sun exposure, during which time UVB rays can trigger the skin cells to initiate a cascade of events that are designed to defend the cells from the perceived UV attack.

The first indication of damage is redness, also known as erythema, which is caused by inflammatory molecules being released from our skin cells (keratinocytes). This is a result of the UV attack on vital components of the skin cell structure (such as DNA). Our blood vessels are triggered to dilate and expand, allowing your immune system cells to infiltrate the area and defend the body. This inflammatory response can manifest within an hour of UV exposure and the resulting erythema usually takes 3-4 hours to appear, peaking at around 24 hours1.

Within 2 hours, a feeling of tightness can also be experienced and is attributed to the skin’s loss of moisture or water2. Gradually skin cells will start to thicken, with pigment  formation an attempt to reduce the UV rays from penetrating skin and doing more DNA damage to the skin cells.

Peeling after a sunburn is your body’s way of ridding itself of the severely damaged cells, thereby helping to reduce the risk of skin cancer formation. This is a process known as apoptosis3 whereby cells actually commit suicide and is a vital part of the repair process. Once these cell layers effectively shed or peel off, it stimulates new, healthy cells to come to the surface.

Sometimes the effects of sunburn don't appear until hours later. Sometimes the effects of sunburn don’t appear until hours later.

Can our skin repair sun damage? 

Our skin has the ability to repair some of the DNA damage that occurs after excessive UV exposure. However, there is also the risk that skin cells with mutated DNA will refuse to die off and manifest as melanomas, or skin cancer.

While redness will eventually fade and skin will stop peeling, the healing process can be a drawn out, not to mention uncomfortable process. This is why it is preferable to not risk the health of your skin and  protect yourself with a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen such as the Ultra SunActive SPF 50+ range.

As few as five cases of sunburn throughout our lives can double our risk of melanoma, which is why it is crucial to be proactive about sun protection before it’s too late.

Right after sun exposure

As the effects of sunburn can often be delayed in appearing, you should get out of the sun and take steps to treat sunburn as soon as possible. A cool shower or bath can help to temporarily soothe the burning sensation, while generous application of moisturisers can also help to reduce the effect of peeling, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Hydration is also key after sunburn, as water is drawn away to the skin, so keep a bottle on hand to keep topped up. If the sunburn has caused blistering, or you suffer adverse effects such as chills or fevers, it is important to seek medical advice straight away.

 SunActive Face & Body Recovery Cream can help to soothe the effects of sunburn. SunActive Face & Body Recovery Cream can help to soothe the effects of sunburn.

Skin care

If you are seeking relief after sun exposure, our SunActive Face & Body Recovery Cream contains soothing Soy Bean Extract, Tasmanian Berry Extracts and Vitamin E Phosphate to alleviate the effects of any irritation.

In addition, topical application of high quality skin care products can help to repair some of the signs of photoageing. The Ultra C Firming range contains high concentrations of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin C can aid in increasing the production of collagen, which helps to keep skin looking firm and youthful, helping to combat the appearance of sun damage.

In addition, vitamin A is found in the Ultra A Range. It is recommended you only apply vitamin A at night, as it can cause the skin to become for sensitive to the sun while the repair process is underway.

Exfoliation can also help to refresh your skin after sunburn. By removing dead skin cells, encouraging the growth of new ones, it can not only help improve the texture and appearance of skin but can also allow your other skincare products to work more effectively.

Stick to a routine of 2-3 times a week maximum, using whichever method works best for you, whether it’s peels, scrubs, masks or microdermabrasion. A professional skin care treatment such as our Vita-Abrasion combines both exfoliation and a formula rich in vitamins A and C for the best results.

To find out more about how you can treat the effects of photoageing and sun damage, book a professional skin consultation with one of our therapists today.

1Kramer DA, Shayne P. Sun-induced disorders. Schwartz GR, ed. Principles and Practice of Emergency Medicine. 4th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1999. 1581.

2Walker SL, Hawk JL, Young AR. Acute effects of ultraviolet radiation on the skin. Freedberg IM, ed.Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2003. 1275-1282

3Clydesdale GJ, Dandie GW, Muller HK. Ultraviolet light induced injury: immunological and inflammatory effects. Immunol Cell Biol. 2001 Dec. 79(6):547-68. [Medline].