How to Prevent a Sunburn from Peeling
Few things are worse than nodding off at the beach then waking up to find out that you've been burnt to a crisp. Sunburns can take you by surprise, but the resulting phase of events are usually pretty predictable. Sunburns tend to give skin that recognizable red tint and can be itchy or painful, and more severe burns can also come with blistering. To add to the fun, there's a good chance that your burnt skin will end up peeling after a few days, causing you to shed a layer.
Essentially, this peeling process is your skin's way of shedding its own dead weight. "Sunburns can peel even without blistering and this occurs because the skin is irreparably damaged," says JiaDe Yu, M.D., director of the Occupational and Contact Dermatitis Clinic and assistant professor of dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, and contracted specialist at AristaMD. "The burned skin is essentially 'dead' and once new skin is made; the old, dead skin peels off."
If you're still in the early stages of a sunburn, you might be desperately wondering "how can I prevent my sunburn from peeling?" (Related: How to Treat a Sunburn for Fast Relief)
Not all sunburns peel, so you may be off the hook. But when a burn's about to peel, there's no way to completely stop that from happening. "There are no medically proven ways to prevent the skin from eventually peeling after a sunburn occurs," says Dr. Yu. "The peeling that comes after some sunburn is inevitable," an article published in the International Journal of Research In Pharmacy and Chemistry echoes, puts it directly. (Related: Yes, Your Eyes Can Get Sunburned — Here's How to Make Sure That Doesn't Happen)
What you can do is take steps to avoid making matters worse and causing more extreme peeling. For starters, you want to avoid the sun while your sunburn is healing to avoid causing more damage while your skin is extra vulnerable, says Dr. Yu. You might benefit from taking extra care to keep the area moisturized since sunburns tend to dry out your skin. That same International Journal of Research In Pharmacy and Chemistry article suggests liberally applying a creamy, unscented moisturizer to the area once the redness has started to subside a bit, since that might help minimize the degree of peeling and irritation. On a related note, the article warns against tearing off pieces of skin left from a broken blister — tempting as it might be — since that can open fresh skin up for additional irritation. (Related: The Best After-Sun Lotions for Your Parched Skin and Lobster-Red Burn)
When it comes down to it, the best (and only) way to prevent a sunburn from peeling is to avoid getting the burn in the first place by taking steps including applying (and reapplying!) SPF and staying in the shade in the middle of the day when the sun's rays are the strongest. If it's too late for that, stay moisturized, ride it out for a few days, and vow to improve upon your skin cancer-prevention game in the future.