Everyone who has suffered a sunburn knows that sometimes your skin will feel a little tender, and other times it feels as though your skin is going to melt off and your brain will stop functioning. This is because not all sunburns are created equally. Some can be treated at home with minimal effort, while others can cause serious damage which may require medical attention. The severity of a sunburn is an important thing to consider when discerning how to best treat it and heal the skin.

First Degree Sunburn

A first degree sunburn is what most people commonly associate with sunburns. Redness, tenderness, and mild pain are all symptoms of a first degree sunburn. People with fair skin and the very young or very old are more susceptible to any type of burn and should be careful when spending prolonged amount of time in the sun. After exposure to the sun, skin begins to redistribute melanin which are the molecules which control the skin’s pigmentation. For those with fair skin, there is little melanin to redistribute, so there is no immediate darkening of the skin to protect it. This is one of the reasons people with fair skin tend not to notice the damage being inflicted on their skin until hours after sun exposure. Skin will then inflame and feel painful to the touch.

Treatment for First Degree Sunburn

These burns will typically heal themselves within two to five days. However, if you want to expedite the process there are plenty of options. Firstly, stay out of the sun at all costs. If you must go outside, cover as much of the sunburn as possible with lightweight clothing and plenty of broad-spectrum sunscreen. You can take anti-inflammatories and treat your skin with aloe vera gel to ease the pain and quicken your recovery.

Second Degree Sunburn

Second degree sunburns damage skin past the first layer. They are usually characterized by vibrant redness, blistering, swelling, and more severe pain with the possibility of dehydration or nausea. The blisters usually appear in small clusters which will eventually break. Second degree sunburns typically occur in people who have fallen asleep in the sun or those who would have otherwise left the sun’s rays but had no other option. These burns will not heal within the two to five day time frame of first degree burns and may require medical attention.

Treatment for Second Degree Sunburn

Start at home with cool (but not ice cold) compresses or a cool shower. At-home treatment is similar to that of a first degree burn. If you experience any severe dehydration or nausea, it may be best to consult a physician. A doctor should also be contacted if any blisters begin popping because the open wound on damaged skin can lead to infection quickly. They may prescribe a topical treatment to be applied to the burn and medication for the pain, and, if necessary, they may drain the fluid from any blisters and wrap them with a light gauze to protect from infection.

Third Degree Sunburn

Although rare, third degree sunburns can happen and anyone suffering from a third degree sunburn should seen immediate medical attention. Skin will present a red to purplish discoloration, and large blisters will form. Those suffering third degree sunburns will also experience chills, a mild fever, and severe nausea, headaches, and dehydration.

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Treatment for Third Degree Sunburn

For a sunburn this severe, a doctor may set up an IV to ensure the patient receives the fluid they need. They may also remove the fluid from blisters and treat them similarly to a second degree sunburn to prevent the onset of infection. Medicine will be administered for pain at the discretion of the doctor to make sure a patient with severe burns does not go into shock. Sunburns of this severity should never be treated at home. Some may think their pain is not intolerable after a severe burn, but when in doubt always go to the hospital. They may feel so calm because their nerves have been damaged and are numb to the intense pain and damage caused. Because of the complexity of treating, changing dressings, and other various components, treating severe burns should always be left to professionals.