Forgot to wear sunscreen? Here's how to deal with the burn.

Image: The Heartbreak Kid.

You don’t know regret until you suffer a sunburn that renders sleeping, showering and even wearing clothes eye-wateringly painful.

We’ve all been there. And we’ve all berated our Past Selves for being so bloody reckless while slathering chilled aloe vera across our scorched shoulders/back/face.

Sunburn can happen at any time of the year, but Aussies’ love of lying on the beach in minimal clothing makes it a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ during summer.

The aftermath is physically agonising and prompts plenty of self-loathing — but we still don’t have a magic pill to reverse the damage.

Oh, Kim. My face is sizzling in sympathy.

So what's the best course of action?

In answering that question, let's go back to basics. "Sunburn is damage to the skin from UVA and UVB rays and it actually causes the death of skin cells," explains Dr Natasha Cook, a dermatologist whose expertise includes skin cancer surveillance, diagnosis and management.

You don't need to be reclined on a beach for three hours in order for this damage to occur; it can happen in as little as five to 10 minutes. Dr Cook says this primarily comes down to your skin type — people with paler complexions tend to burn faster than those with darker complexions (and don't we know it).

Watch: A simple, classic white shirt will help protect your skin from the sun. (Post continues after video.)


Unfortunately, having too much UV ray exposure is a lot like having one too many tequila shots; once you cross that threshold there's no going back. However, there are some strategies that can help kick-start the healing — or as I like to call it, de-lobstering — process.

"As soon as you realise you are burnt, treat it with a cool flannel or a cool shower and follow up with lots of moisturiser to put moisture back into the skin," Dr Cook recommends.

"Also, anti-inflammatories can actually stop the damage as they work directly on the pathway that is instigated by the UV exposure."

That's step one. As anyone who's ever roasted their skin knows, the burn can stick around for days on end so you're going to need to keep treating it appropriately. Along with drinking lots of water and staying out of the sun, Dr Cook says you need to get some moisture back into your dermis.

"I would recommend applying a hydrocortisone ointment from the chemist after moisturiser two or three times a day as soon as possible to treat the burns," she says.

If, like me, you were told once upon a time that applying any kind of cream or 'oil' to a fresh sunburn was a bad idea, don't fret. Dr Cook says if you just use a regular moisturiser, there's "no real truth" to that advice.

"The old-fashioned butter was bad as it 'cooked' the burn. Technically, most moisturisers are a mix of oils and water, so saying you can use oils just doesn't makes sense in this case," she explains.

Here are just some of the after-sun products you can pick up these days. (Post continues after gallery.)

As we all know, prevention is better than cure — and this certainly applies to sun damage.

"Use lots of sunscreen. I recommend a 50+ SPH that has either zinc or titanium in it, applied 20 minutes before you go out, and also any sun-protective clothing," Dr Cook says.

Repeat after me: sun protection is my friend.

What's your post-sunburn action plan?