So you went to the pool and had an amazing time soaking up the sun and swimming in the water, when all of a sudden, you realize – wait…
- Did I put sunscreen on my shoulders? Or maybe
- Did I re-apply after toweling off?
Even the most prudent of sun protectors make mistakes sometimes – and when we do, we turn that nasty shade of lobster-red and wait for the inevitable shedding to occur – that’s right – the dreaded peeling after sunburn.
Why does skin peel after sunburn?
Well, firstly, it’s a sign that the skin has undergone quite a bit of damage and is working to heal itself. The inflammation caused by the sun’s rays damages skin cells, forcing them to shut down and die.
New skin cells beneath the surface then start working hard to replace the damaged ones, but they need time to become strong and sturdy enough to become the new outer layer of skin.
Once they are strong enough, the damaged layer can then peel away, leaving the new skin to stand alone.
How long does it take for a sunburn to start peeling?
On average, a sunburn will start peeling 3 days after the burn. However, it also depends on the severity of the burn.
Mild sunburns last between 3 to 5 days and peeling may occur during the last few of these days.
Moderate sunburns caused more damage though so they can last for about a week with skin peeling for several days afterwards.
And finally, severe burns, which often require medical attention, can last for over two weeks and peel for an extended time afterwards.
How long does skin peel after sunburn?
The amount of time your skin peels after a sunburn is also dependent on the severity, but on average, skin will peel for up to a week.
Should you peel sunburn?
Now the big question, to peel or not to peel? Is it bad to peel sunburn? The short answer is yes. Here’s why:
Peeling skin before the new layer is ready and strong enough means you are exposing it when it’s still too delicate to stand alone. This can cause tenderness, irritation, bleeding, infection, and scarring, especially if not removed correctly.
So resist the urge – no matter how tempting it is to pull that pesky skin away, don’t do it!
How to Peel a Sunburn
That being said, there are some ways that you can peel a sunburn safely. Here are some suggestions:
- You can take a bath in lukewarm water. This will soothe your skin and will make it easy to remove the peeling skin. Using a soft cloth, gently wipe the areas of peeling. After the bath, pat the skin dry – don’t rub.
- Use scissors to cut off any hanging skin rather than pulling it away.
- Apply antibiotic and/or moisturizing creams as these will help the new skin get stronger and more flexible. Creams and lotions with aloe vera in particular can minimize peeling.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Drinking water nourishes skin and helps it to repair itself and heal.
Now that you know what you can do to improve peeling skin, here are some no-nos when it comes to dealing with peeling after sunburn:
- Avoid using rough materials when bathing – loofahs or sponges can cause damage to the healthy skin.
- Avoid using exfoliation products that contain glycolic acid, retinoids, or salicylic acid – these dry out the skin, but the damaged skin needs moisture to heal.
- Don’t scratch! Sunburned skin can be really itchy, (trust me, I know!) but no matter what, don’t scratch because this can cause scarring. Putting the itchy skin in cool water can provide some relief.
Practice Sun Safety
Now that you are armed with the tools to deal with the annoying peeling after sunburn, it’s important to practice sun safety to avoid getting sunburnt in the first place.
According to Cancer Research UK, getting just one painful sunburn once every two years can triple your risk of melanoma skin cancer.
You can check out their page to learn more, and watch their video below explaining why exactly sunburns put us at risk:
Do cloudy days keep burns away?
It’s also important to remember that UV rays can break through clouds. These are often the most dangerous days, because you can be burning without realizing it when you do not feel the direct heat on your skin.
Be sure to monitor the UV index before going outside to ensure you stay safe from the sun. To understand what the UV index really is and how you can use it to protect yourself, head to the World Health Organization’s page on UV Index.
Going to the beach or the pool or just for a walk around your block doesn’t mean that you are doomed to get a sunburn and then its painful peeling. With the right precautionary measures, you can stay safe in the sun.
Remember the following tips:
- Be aware of the UV index each day.
- Use sunscreen of SPF 30+ and don’t forget to re-apply frequently.
- Wear protective clothing such as sun hats and sunglasses.
- Avoid excess exposure to the strong midday sun.
- Seek shade when possible rather than direct exposure to the sun.
Now, get out there and enjoy the day, but remember to stay safe in the sun!