How to treat sunburn?

The initial joy of staying in Bali and enjoying everything the island has to offer can be unexpectedly replaced by sadness. Many tourists, after their first happy day on the beach, discover sunburns and face the need for treatment. However, even those who have spent a considerable amount of time on Bali and, perhaps, ridden a bike with exposed shoulders and knees for an unexpectedly long time, also come to realize how deceiving the sun can be on Bali.
I won't lecture you on the importance of staying in the shade and covering your body during extended trips. "Should have" is one of the most useless phrases. How can I help you when your face and body resemble a red cushion, and touching the skin is unbearable?
Types of burns depending on severity
Clinically, sunburn can manifest itself in three variants, which characterize the degree of its severity.
First-degree burn:
Characterized by skin redness, typically occurring after a day of active sun exposure without any initial discomfort. Unpleasant sensations, such as burning, especially upon touch, gradually intensify towards the evening. These sensations are accompanied by a feeling of tightness in the affected skin area. Visually, the skin appears reddened compared to other areas not exposed to sunlight. The most common locations for these changes are the back, shoulders, and face. Other areas are less frequently affected. If the changes are limited to those described, this burn will start to improve within 3-4 days.
Second-degree burn:
Sometimes, a few hours or the next day after the burn, blisters filled with clear, straw-yellow fluid may appear on the reddened skin. The size and shape of the blisters can vary. The appearance of blisters indicates severe sun damage to the skin and requires special measures for resolution. With proper treatment and the use of appropriate therapies and remedies after the burn, healing is possible within ten to twelve days.
Third-degree burn:
Characterized by tissue necrosis. A dry crust, or scab, forms over the wound. For a third-degree burn of type A, some epidermal skin cells are partially preserved, facilitating the process of self-healing. In a third-degree burn of type B, all skin is lost, and wound healing occurs very slowly. This occurrence is highly unlikely in everyday life.
Fourth-degree burn:
While it theoretically exists, its occurrence is even less likely than that of a third-degree burn.
When to see a doctor?
In the case of a severe sunburn, it is advisable to seek medical treatment. You should go to the hospital for burn treatment if:
- Blisters appear on the skin.
- 50% or more of the body surface is affected (for example, the entire upper half of the torso, neck, arms).
- The face is severely affected.
- Pronounced swelling occurs in the area of the face or in distant areas from the burn.
- If the temperature rises, there is headache, and especially if there is nausea – there are reasons to suspect heat stroke.
If the doctor determines that the patient has a severe sunburn, treatment may be carried out in the hospital because, in addition to treating the damaged skin, intravenous infusions with saline solutions may be needed to replenish lost fluids, pain relief, and, in case of complications, even antibiotics.
In mild cases, pain and swelling of the burned skin usually resolve on their own within 2-3 days, and redness and peeling take about a week to subside.
First aid for burns
If sunburn has developed, treatment in the initial stage (in the first 1-2 days) aims to cool the skin, reduce pain, and relieve itching after sunburn. As swelling subsides and skin peeling occurs, the goal of therapeutic procedures is to moisturize and accelerate regeneration.
The first aid for reddened and inflamed skin is a moist compress. It helps alleviate pain and moisturize the skin. It should be applied to the affected areas for 15 to 20 minutes. It is also recommended to take a bath with room-temperature water or a cool shower whenever possible.
During moisturizing procedures, it is essential to handle the skin on the affected area as gently as possible – avoid rubbing or applying pressure.
Depending on the degree of damage and personal preferences, you can choose between medication-based burn treatment or natural remedies. Advising on which is better – natural (folk remedies) or medicinal – is futile. It's almost a religious debate, akin to the dispute between vegetarians and meat-eaters or between Catholics and Huguenots. I don't want this article's comments section to turn into another St. Bartholomew's Night, so I'll simply present both options here.
Treatments for burns
If you come to a pharmacy and ask for a remedy for sunburn, be prepared that in 95% of cases, you'll be provided with:
1) the most expensive one available (you're a foreigner and can afford it well),
2) the least effective one (why would the pharmacy seller take risks and give you a potent medicine?
What if you experience some side effects?).
When I visited the Kimia Farma pharmacy near Pepito Canggu and asked for a remedy for sunburn, they recommended a homeopathic gel with calendula. It cost 195,000 rupiahs per tube, and its effectiveness seemed questionable from my point of view.
Therefore, if you want to buy an effective drug, it is better to come to the pharmacy with a list of what you need.
Remedies suggested to relieve symptoms generally fall into the following groups:
1. Antiseptics. It makes sense to apply antiseptics in the form of lotions to burned areas as first aid. They will prevent infection from occurring. These may be products with chlorhexidine
Chlorhexidine (international name Chlorhexidine) is sold in pharmacies under the names Minosep or Minosil, which are used as a gargle. But this is the same chlorhexidine.
In Indonesia, Sodium Chloride 0.9% can be used as an analogue for washing wounds.
2. Dexpanthenol. This is a derivative of pantothenic acid, on the basis of which a whole group of drugs has been created to reduce inflammation and accelerate regeneration. Pantothenol is a water-soluble vitamin that is part of coenzyme A. Under the influence of this substance, cells regenerate. Usually, preparations containing pantothenol are sold in the form of aerosols or ointments with a 5% content of the substance. The spray or ointment forms a kind of film on the skin, which helps protect it from external influences and stimulates the recovery process. In addition, the skin does not peel or crack. In Indonesia, it is sold under the name Bepanthen.
The drug has anti-inflammatory effects, improves tissue regeneration, and is quickly absorbed by the skin. There are no age restrictions; individual intolerance is possible, and its use in children should be done under adult supervision.
3. A preparation based on silver sulfadiazine.
In Indonesia it is sold under the name Burnazin. I found Burnazin at the Kimia Farma pharmacy near Pepito Canggu.
4. If the general condition is disturbed and there is chills, painkillers are prescribed in the form of Panadol (Panadol) can be bought at any pharmacy or mini-market at a price of 6,000 - 9,000 rupees per blister of 10 tablets. It has a weak anti-inflammatory effect.
5. Drugs that accelerate healing. It is better to use them not in the first hours, but when the acute period is already over. Such drugs include solcoseryl ointment or bioplacenton.
Natural preparations - folk remedies
- Cool shower or bath with a weak vinegar solution, cold compresses on the burned area.
- Traditional methods also include taking a bath with the addition of baking soda or starch (potato or corn).
- Grated potatoes or crushed cucumbers also help alleviate the condition of dehydrated skin. During procedures, it is important to prevent the medicinal remedy from drying out, as this can intensify discomfort;
- Cabbage leaf – a popular anti-inflammatory and analgesic remedy. If it is too rigid, you can lightly soften it with a kitchen mallet.
- Compresses with chamomile, calendula, oak bark infusion, or strong black tea effectively soothe inflammation.
- Aloe vera juice is beneficial for burns. In the erythema and swelling stage, it provides a cooling effect and has anti-inflammatory properties. As peeling begins, it moisturizes and accelerates healing. Fresh aloe vera leaves can be applied to the burn area, the juice can be extracted and applied to damaged areas, or a non-alcoholic gel can be used.
How else can you alleviate the condition?
Drink more water: inflamed skin loses more moisture than usual.
Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, avoid straps and belts that press on painful areas.
After getting a sunburn, it's necessary to avoid sun exposure, and when going outside, protect the skin with all available means (covered clothing made of natural fabrics, a sunshade, headgear, sunscreen with a high protection factor).
Continuously moisturize the skin. Actively moisturizing reduces the chances of skin peeling.
Additionally, in both of the aforementioned cases, you can expedite the process by aiding the body in combating free radicals from within. To do this, take supplements and consume foods that contain antioxidants to neutralize them. The most effective (and for some, the most delicious) options are pomegranate juice and green tea. Both possess anti-inflammatory effects and are rich in antioxidants. Adequate amounts of antioxidants are also found in other fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and legumes.
It is recommended to take vitamins A, E, and C, which have antioxidant properties. Taking supplements from this group for 10 to 30 days helps enhance the skin's recovery properties and prevents cell degeneration.
During the recovery period, avoid strong tea, coffee, and alcohol consumption.
What not to do in case of a burn:
1. Do not treat the burn with alcohol solutions: This will intensify pain, dry out the damaged skin, and increase the affected area.
2. Do not wash the burn area with various soaps and gel hygiene products: They may contain various chemical compounds that can cause a strong allergic reaction.
3. Avoid applying fatty creams to the skin:They will act as a thermal barrier, hindering the cooling of the skin and increasing the degree of damage.
4. Do not expose yourself to the sun for at least several days.
5. Do not attempt to burst blisters on your own: Improperly conducted such a procedure with a violation of antiseptic rules can lead to infection of the burn surface and poor healing. Large blisters should only be opened in a medical facility with strict adherence to all antiseptic rules.
6. Do not try to accelerate skin peeling with scrubs:This can lead to skin damage and infection.
7. Avoid applying overly cold items (ice or excessively chilled compresses) to the affected area.
Please take care of yourself and be extremely cautious. Feel free to share if you have experienced sunburns in Bali and what treatment you used.
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