Peeling starts just as the sunburn fades. Every day the top layer of skin sloughs off and sticks to your clothes, trying to peel it off.
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What harm do you think? Why are you falling anyway?
Dermatologist Amy Kasuf, M.D., discusses how to deal with the final stages of sunburn. She explains why we peel, what to do about it, and why pulling loose skin can do more harm than good.
Why does sunburn cause peeling?
Dr. Kasouf says the peel is part of the skin’s natural healing process. Sunburn damages skin cells. The skin becomes red, swollen, and stretched. Once the swelling begins to subside (about 3 days after the burn), the outer layer of skin, which consists of dead skin cells, does not shrink with healthy skin. Instead, it will eventually peel off.
“Peeling is a form of skin cell turnover,” says Dr. Kasuf. “A new, fresh layer of skin grows under it, and the outer layer sloughs off. The worse the burn, the more damage it does to the skin. The deeper the burn, the more layers of skin are sloughed off. There is a possibility.”
How to prevent peeling from the sun
We all know that the easiest way to prevent peeling is to protect yourself from the sun in the first place. Peeling may be unavoidable if the ship is sailing and you are tanning.
“Your body lubricates and moisturizes your skin. But when the surface skin begins to peel away from the skin underneath, there’s no longer a source of moisture and hydration,” explains Dr. Kasouf. “Thus, keeping the skin hydrated and preventing further dryness may help reduce or make it less noticeable.”
Some things you can try:
- Stay away from the sun: As soon as you notice that your skin is burning, seek shade and cover your skin or cover your head indoors. Even first-degree sunburns, which affect only the top layers of the skin, can cause peeling. However, worsening burns increase the risk of peeling (and the amount of peeling).
- Take a cold shower or bath. Hot water can dry out your skin. Keep the temperature low when you shower, and moisturize immediately after the bath to lock in maximum moisture.
- Using Aloe Vera: Aloe vera cools and moisturizes the skin. One study shows that it may even prevent cell death. Apply generously and apply without rubbing all the way in. It will get dirty, but you can prevent it from drying out.
- Avoid petroleum or petroleum-based lotions. The oils in some lotions trap heat in the skin and can make a sunburn worse in the early stages. Once peeled and the heat and swelling subside, they are helpful.
- Drink extra water: The goal is to keep the skin moisturized. Sunburn destroys the barrier function of the skin and causes water to evaporate from the skin. You need extra fluids throughout to prevent dehydration. Lotions do it from the outside of the body, while extra drinking water does it from the inside.
peeling sunburn treatment
If the skin is peeling off, it means the skin is healing. (Wow!) However, this process could take him a week or more, depending on the severity of the burn.
“Even though the sun has healed and the swelling has subsided, I don’t think there are any dead skin cells left,” says Kasuf. “It will come off in some way, but if you moisturize and protect your skin, it will be less likely to come off.”
While the skin is being peeled off, the following things happen:
- Avoid skin irritation. Wear soft cloths and pat your skin gently with a towel after bathing without rubbing. The new skin under the exfoliation layer is delicate.
- Do not exfoliate: While it’s tempting to exfoliate dead skin, most exfoliating products are too harsh and can damage skin that is recovering from a sunburn.
- Keep skin hydrated: Take cold baths or showers, avoid drying soaps, and apply moisturizer daily to prevent dry skin.
- Protect your skin from the sun. The new skin that appears when you peel it is very sensitive to UV light. Avoid the sun if possible or keep your skin covered. Apply sunscreen daily. Also, be careful when applying or reapplying sunscreen, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers. Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce pain at the peeling site.
How to stop peeling when a sunburn sets in
There is no proven method to stop peeling once it has started. But moisturizing, especially with aloe vera, can hasten the process.
“Moisturizing the skin dramatically reduces the appearance of flaking,” says Dr. Kasuf. “As a bonus, applying moisturizer, even gently, can cause the skin to flake off more quickly.”
Is it bad to peel a sunburn?
Much like popping pimples, peeling a tan is tempting, but it can do more harm than good, says Dr. Kasuf.
“The top layer of skin, even if dead, protects the new skin cells underneath,” she continues. “If you start peeling the skin before it’s ready to peel, you can expose new cells before they’re strengthened and ready to be exposed.”
It can also slough off new cells along with the dead skin, putting you at risk of infection. Here are some signs that your skin may be infected:
- Scabs or scabs form on the surface of the skin.
- Increased swelling and tenderness.
- Pus or fluid leaking from the skin.
“It’s best to wait for the skin to heal on its own,” she advises. “Handle it gently. Don’t try to remove too much dead skin.”