Surviving a scalding summer sun

Now that summer has finally started, we start wearing shorts, sandals and sleeveless shirts. With all this high water in all the reservoirs, everyone seems to be taking out the boats, too. What we don’t seem to remember most days is that if we’re out too long in the sun, at least if you’re as fair-skinned as I am, we start turning colors. Yes, I’m talking about that dreaded beginning of the season sunburn.

There’s an easy way to fix it, right? Just put on sunscreen. You know, that nasty SPF 50 grease that is supposed to keep you from burning. Unless you’re like me and want a great tan, and figure the only way to get it quick is to burn first. If you’re planning on doing it that way, at least know the risks beforehand, and know how to give yourself a little relief if it gets too bad.

I only bring this up because I got fried this last weekend while working in my parents’ backyard, setting up their new swimming pool. Being out in the sun for about three hours in a sleeveless shirt left me looking like a lobster for a couple days. It’s finally starting to stop stinging, but now it’s going to peel.

We all have heard the lectures about sunburns. “You’ll get skin cancer!” Well, they’re not kidding. My mom spent two years in Guinea while she was a kid and never wore sunscreen. They were under direct sun and heat most of the time she was there, and she said she got burned a lot. It wasn’t until almost 30 years later that the skin cancer showed up. Granted it wasn’t life-threatening or anything, but it was enough that she needed surgery to remove it. Now she has a scar on her shoulder as proof of her lack of sunscreen.

After getting burned, though, how do you get the pain to subside so you can actually lie down in bed and sleep without waking up because your burn is getting rubbed?

First thing you ought to do, at least if it’s just a mild burn, is put aloe vera on it. If the burn really hurts, see if you can’t put the aloe cooling gel on it. The gel usually will have lidocaine in it, which numbs the burn, and the aloe will keep it from peeling by keeping your skin hydrated.

However, if you know your burn has progressed beyond a mild “oh, this kind of hurts when I scratch it” burn, whatever you do, don’t put aloe on it! At that point, the aloe helps your body retain heat, which makes it keep burning. I tried aloe this weekend after my burn, but it didn’t help at all, and actually made my burn worse. My shoulder ended up blistering.

Believe it or not, there actually are really good ways to take the sting out of a burn.

You know when you burn your hand on the stove or a hot pan, and your mom always told you to run it under cold water? The same thing works for a sunburn. Jump in a lukewarm bath or shower, letting the water run over your burn. Yes, it stings like crazy, but it does at least mitigate the sting when you’re done.

If that doesn’t work — which it didn’t for mine, but my burn was a weird purple-white color — I found the best remedy. Call me crazy if you want, but this stuff works. One word for you all: vinegar.

Yes, plain white vinegar that you use at Easter when you’re dying eggs. Soak a paper towel in the stuff and put it on your burn until the towel is warm, remove and repeat.  The vinegar helps to draw the heat away from your body. It might take a few applications, but it works. And to top it off, you only smell the stuff if you get up really close to your skin after it has dried, or if the burn is on your chest and you have a dripping vinegar towel in your face.

However, your best bet is to just put the sunscreen on and save yourself the hassle.  I’d take light tan over lobster any day.