You should NEVER peel sunburnt skin, skin doctor warns

SUNBURN can be really painful…and embarrassing.

As if turning into a human lobster wasn't humiliating enough, your skin starts to peel and shed once the colour has started to die down.

And when that happens, it can be tempting to tear off the peeling skin so that you're not flaking all over the place.

But you really don't want to pick your skin after a sunburn – because doing so can leave you with a skin infection or longterm scar.

Peeling is a sign that significant damage has occurred. It's your body's way of getting rid of damaged cells that could potentially become cancerous.

"When the skin peels after sunburn, it’s a result of the dead skin cells being eliminated from the body while a healthy new layer recovers underneath," explained Dr Walayat Hussain, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson.

He told The Sun: "If you pick at the skin, it can potentially cause scarring and permanent skin discolouration – so we definitely advise against this."

When we get sunburned, our skin is damaged by UV radiation.

To counteract that, the body tries to heal itself by forming a new layer of skin underneath – but that process can take up to seven days.

By peeling the skin, might think that you're just removing "dead" stuff, but you could actually be damaging perfectly healthy skin in the process.

And peeling skin before it's ready to come off can interfere with the healing process – leaving you open to infection.

Picking away can also cause acne-like scarring on the undamaged layer.

Skin doesn't always peel at the same time, so ripping off bits of flaky skin can lead to accidentally removing healthy skin.

Our skin is a barrier to infection so if that's compromised, you open the floodgates to bacteria.

Get an infection and you're leaving yourself open to scarring.

So, how can you stop your sunburn from peeling?

You can't really stop it from happening but you may be able to speed the process along.


"It is important during this time to apply liberal quantities of moisturiser to help reduce the symptoms of soreness and itching," said Dr Hussain.

Aloe vera is great for cooling the skin, reducing inflammation and reducing the skin's peeling process.

One study recommends slathering your skin in an unscented moisturiser and applying it as often as needed.

Don't exfoliate

You don't want to aggravate the skin any more than it already is, so avoid using harsh scrubs, exfoliants, loofahs, sponges and whatever you do, don't scratch.

Take ibuprofen

If it's painful, take an over-the-counter painkiller like ibuprofen which will also reduce inflammation and decrease peeling.

Avoid using petroleum-based creams

Petroleum and other oils can trap heat and make sunburn worse, so make sure that you check what's in your moisturiser.

How to stay safe in the sun

Peeling skin is gross but it might just serve as a reminder to take extra care in the sun.

Getting sunburnt once every two years triples your risk of skin cancer, so it's absolutely imperative that you take measures to avoid it happening.

Everyone needs to apply around two tablespoons for the head and neck area, and two tablespoons for the body.

You can't apply enough – and when it's really warm, you need to think about how often you're applying it.

“Lots of people apply suncream twice during the day as they are aware it does wear off, and while this is a good start, suncream really does need applying more than twice particularly on really hot days," says dermatologist Dr Jennifer Crawley.


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"It’s also important that whatever your skin type you look for one with a high SPF of 30+ and one that will protect the skin against both UVA and UVB rays."

Even when it's overcast, you still need to be applying suncream to your face.

Covering up as much as possible and sticking to the shade – particularly when the sun is at its highest and strongest (12pm-3pm) are also good ideas.

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