When a day of outdoor fun leaves you with a painful sunburn, you can expect to face days of discomfort and skin changes. Ultimately, the red and inflamed skin will peel, revealing a new -- and extra-sensitive -- layer of skin underneath. Eliminating this peeling skin -- gently, of course -- expedites the skin healing process.
When ultraviolet rays penetrate the skin, these rays kill the cells on the top layer and dry them out. As a result, the top layers of skin need to be rebuilt, and the burned skin serves as a layer of protection as this reparative process takes place underneath. Once the new skin is ready to be exposed, this top layer begins to peel.
Shedding this layer of burned and dried-out skin starts the healing process, allowing you to lose that damaged skin and expose new, healthier -- albeit sensitive -- skin underneath.
Always apply SPF 15 to SPF 30 sunscreen about 30 minutes before going outdoors to avoid future sunburns. When you're outdoors during the sun's peak hours -- 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. -- be extra vigilant and reapply sunscreen regularly.
During the skin-peeling process, several techniques can be used to gently encourage the shedding of this dry and damaged skin.
Apply a gentle moisturizer as your skin heals. Look for moisturizers featuring aloe vera, which can soothe the irritated skin and keep the peeling skin -- and the skin underneath -- well moisturized. Well-moisturized skin is more likely to peel off easily, giving you a gentle way to slough off this sunburned skin. Alpha hydroxy acid is another moisturizer ingredient that can gently exfoliate peeling skin.
Before using a moisturizer featuring alpha hydroxy acid, ensure your sunburned skin is no longer sensitive, painful or irritated. Place a dime-sized dab of moisturizer on a small area of your skin to ensure no stinging or burning occurs. This mositurizer is best used at the end of the skin peeling process, once you have buffed away most of the peeling skin.
Massage moisturized cleansing cloths onto your peeling skin to gently buff it away. Opt for a cloth designed for sensitive skin and featuring such ingredients as aloe and botanicals, such as chamomile and green tea extract, to ensure it's suitable for delicate, sunburned skin.
You can encourage the peeling process in simple ways at home as well. Take a lukewarm bath twice a day. This water will loosen the peeled skin, making it simpler to remove. Gently rub a soft, wet washcloth on your moistened skin to help shed the dry and sunburned layer.
Peeling shoulders and an upper back can be hard to reach without help. Wrap a soft, wet washcloth around a loofah that features a handle. Gently massage the washcloth into your skin to encourage skin peeling.
While many treatments can help peeling skin, some others can further damage this skin.
- Avoid using an exfoliator, loofah or puff on your peeling skin -- these products are too harsh and risk removing more than just the peeling skin.
- Do not pull the peeling skin, which can lead to skin infection and irritate the new skin underneath.
- Don't vigorously rub your peeling skin with a washcloth or cleansing cloth, which can be painful on sensitive skin.
- Skip harsh soaps and bubble baths as your skin peels, as these products can further dry out skin.
- Don't use a self-tanner on peeling skin to even out your color -- this product will stick to the peeling skin, making it look even worse.