A sunburn that’s severe enough to peel is a sign that you fucked up—you should have worn sunscreen, or reapplied it after swimming, or made sure somebody helped you get it all over your back. But once that burn starts peeling, what can you do?

Once you’re burned, you can’t prevent skin from peeling

People sometimes ask how to prevent a sunburn from peeling, but the only way to prevent peeling is to not get a bad sunburn in the first place. Peeling is a side effect of the healing process.

Our skin is constantly making new skin cells that migrate toward the surface as they mature. These cells flake off individually, usually without us noticing. But when large swaths of skin are damaged—like in a sunburn—our body speeds up this process to replace the damaged cells with healthy ones. These quickly-maturing cells don’t have time to fully separate from each other, as they normally would, so by the time they reach the surface, they are still stuck together in sheets.

Don’t pull at the skin to make it peel faster

You may have heard that you shouldn’t pick at a peeling sunburn. This is partially true. It is OK to remove the dead skin that has already separated from your body. It’s no longer attached, so it’s not like it’s doing anything.

But don’t get so enthusiastic about it that you start pulling skin off before it loosens on its own. Those sheets of dead skin form a layer of protection for the burn, so it’s better to wait for them to slough off on their own. Don’t use any exfoliating products during this time, either. Just wait it out.

The same goes for any blisters you might have. Sunburn blisters also aid in healing, so don’t pop them. Blisters are a sign of a second-degree sunburn, by the way, so consider seeking medical attention if the blisters cover a large portion of your body or if you also have symptoms of heat illness.

Protect the skin while it’s healing

While your skin is dealing with a sunburn severe enough to peel, now is not the time to get another sunburn. (Not that it’s ever a good time.) Be especially vigilant about preventing further sun damage:

  • Use sunscreen when you’re outdoors—any kind, so long as you actually wear it and you reapply it throughout the day.
  • Wear clothing that protects you. Consider UV-protective rashguards at the beach, or a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and the back of your neck.
  • Stay in the shade more often.


To take care of the burned skin when you’re at home, dermatologists recommend taking cool baths or showers to soothe the skin, and moisturizing immediately afterward. Moisturizers with aloe or soy can be especially helpful.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends against using pain-relieving lotions that contain lidocaine or any other “-caine” ingredients. (These are local anesthetics, chemical relatives of novocaine.) The anesthetic can irritate skin and some people are allergic—not the kind of thing you want to find out by having an allergic reaction and a sunburn at the same time. Instead, you can take an anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen or aspirin for some relief from the redness, swelling, and pain.

#Sunburn #Starts #Peeling

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