Itchy sunburn
December 4, 2008 12:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm recovering from a body sunburn, most of the pain is gone but now I'm painfully itchy. Should I use some moisturiser cream or should I let my skin dry out to accelerate the process?

The itchiness was so bad I could not focus and had to leave work. Your thoughts are much appreciated.
posted by gttommy to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Apply pure aloe (I find the Banana Boat stuff is the least sticky), and if you took ibuprofen for the sunburn, stop.
posted by nicwolff at 1:15 AM on December 4, 2008

Slather on aloe vera gel. Oral over-the-counter antihistamines (Benadryl) should relieve the itching to some extent (within 20 minutes or so after you take it, and the effect should last anywhere from 4 to 8 hours).

posted by halogen at 1:25 AM on December 4, 2008

If the itchiness is so bad you can't focus, I'm all for relieving that symptom. Aloe, yes. Also if you'd like, a high-quality, fragrance-free moisturizer goes well for my dry, itchy skin.

I also just learned how to put lotion on my back by myself. Saran wrap! Take a piece off the roll that's long enough to use like a towel. Put the lotion on the plastic wrap, and slather on the back. Aaaahhhhhh.
posted by Stewriffic at 2:49 AM on December 4, 2008 [9 favorites]

Awesome, Stewriffic! My ancient Mum who would love to be able to apply skin cream to her own back will love this idea! Sorry, chat. Am bowing out the door backwards...
posted by Kerasia at 3:36 AM on December 4, 2008

Neutrogena makes an after-sun lotion that I find even more soothing than aloe gel. Less sticky, too. I don't know if their claims of antioxidants and multivitamin complexes and such make any difference whatsoever in the long run, but my sunburns do seem to heal up faster when I use it. I am extremely pale-skinned, and unfortunately, I have a lot of experience with the stuff.

Though I can't believe it took me this long to find out how to apply lotion to my back! Oh man, that's great.
posted by adiabat at 3:40 AM on December 4, 2008

Thank you all. I'm already using anti-histamines and aloe vera which helps.
posted by gttommy at 6:11 AM on December 4, 2008

I had this once.... Dear God I feel your pain! For me Aloe wasn't working. I ended up using a mixture of baking soda and water to make a pasteish thing which I then applied to the worst areas. Wish I was smart enough to think of the plastic wrap idea. I seriously hope you are feeling better.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:50 AM on December 4, 2008

My poor, poor Scots/Irish skin has had that problem a couple of times. The doctor said that with extreme sunburns, it's actually nerve damage that's causing the itch, so no amount of cream will stop it. The anti-histamines will help but if it keeps bothering you, ask for a pain killer.

It's torture and it may take a week to heal.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:20 AM on December 4, 2008

Try getting drunk. I'm serious!

I never drink for pleasure, but a virulent attack of late-evening, post-sunburn itching finally subsided only after I had a few stiff drinks. I'd actually gone to the emergency room in a desperate search for a pain suppressor or sleeping pill. I was going nuts, nothing had helped, I'd just emerged from a shower that I'd hoped would remove the lotion that had only seemed to make things worse, so my worried friends dragged me, wet, shirtless and barefoot, to the hospital. This was in a quiet country town in the late 60s, and the ER was empty when we got there. The Doc refused to do more than look at my on-fire back, and even showed me a badge and threatened to arrest me when I became insistent. My by-now even more worried friends dragged the furious me out the door and back home and plied me with bourbon and loud music. Within an hour or two I'd fallen blissfully asleep and in the morning the itch was entirely bearable. FWIW…
posted by dpcoffin at 10:04 AM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like a combo of one part each thick, creamy lotion, aloe, and (here's the secret ingredient) hydrocortisone cream. The first moisturizes, the second coats and protects the skin, and the third is just there for the itch.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:01 AM on December 4, 2008

The peeling isn't part of the healing process, it's part of what happens when your skin is really dry. (And your skin really dry because the sun dried it out.) Slather on the most moisturizing moisturizer you can find, every day, as many times a day as you need. There's no disadvantage to doing this, since the peeling isn't doing anything beneficial.

Also: aloe feels good, but its not that moisturizing.
posted by Kololo at 11:25 AM on December 4, 2008

Put about a cup of non-instant oatmeal in a cheesecloth, and wrap it up so that it won't open.
Hang it under the faucet in your bathtub, and run yourself a temperate bath.
Have yourself a soak in the oatmeal water, and apply moisturizer after.
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 11:44 AM on December 4, 2008

I don't think you can really speed this up- you just need to grow some new skin, right? So you might as well be comfortable in the meantime. Do whatever helps.

I personally find that aloe gel feels great for 30 seconds, then dries to a tight, dry sheen, and therefore I prefer commercial moisturizers with some oil in them when I have a sunburn. Wet your skin first (maybe a cool shower, more for the wetting than the washing). Then pat it dry very gently so it's still a bit damp when you apply the moisturizer- that way the lotion will seal in the water, which will feel nicer.

And drink lots of water and sleep an extra couple hours a night til it's better. Good luck, sunburns suck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:27 PM on December 4, 2008

You can also use one of these to apply lotion to your back.
posted by essexjan at 2:13 PM on December 4, 2008

I'd just like to say that, though mostlymartha's advice to drink would, indeed, dull the pain, it would be a terrible idea for your skin, as alcohol dehydrates you.

Drink lots of water. Consider taking some vitamins, like E and A, both of which are good for the skin.

Also, take oatmeal baths. Gross as hell, but they are really good for your skin.

I'm not a doctor, but I suffered for a couple of years with rather severe psoriasis (before finding light therapy, which pretty well cured me), so I know dry, cracked skin from sunburns and much else.
posted by metalheart at 5:34 PM on December 4, 2008

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