Rather than being a step on the way to getting a good tan, most Australians now recognise that sunburn can cause permanent damage, resulting in premature aging, pigment disorders and skin cancer, and should be avoided at all times. For details on sunburn avoidance and discussion on the questions surrounding the use of sunscreen creams, see the entry on skin cancer.
Despite the warnings, few of us can say that we have never been sunburnt, although the severity of the burning varies greatly depending on skin type and the degree of ultraviolet exposure. Mild sunburn results in hot and sore redness of the skin which, in most people, turns into a tan within days. Tanning is the skin’s natural response to ultraviolet radiation and results from the production of more of the dark skin pigment, melanin, to protect against further radiation. Opinions vary as to whether a small degree of tanning, acquired gradually, should be encouraged to offer protection against serious burning. A severe case of sunburn will be extremely painful, can lead to dehydration, blistering of the skin and the loss of the outer skin layers through peeling.
Generally speaking, you can treat sunburn as you treat any other burns to the skin and special care should be given to ensuring the patient drinks plenty of fluids. Begin with a long cool bath or shower and apply the gel of the Aloe vera liberally over the affected area, being careful not to break the blisters. The gel is soothing and mildly antiseptic. Creams or poultices of calendula (marigold), camomile, comfrey leaves or St John’s Wort are calming and will promote healing. Many people also advocate the external and internal use of Vitamin E to help the body repair the damaged tissue. Traditional home remedies for sunburn include the application of slightly acidic substances like diluted vinegar and sliced tomato. Cold tea is also effective for relieving the heat and pain. The patient should dress in soft loose clothing and avoid further sun exposure of any kind until the skin has fully healed.