Can getting sunburnt make you sick?

What’s the difference between a burn that needs aloe vera and TLC, and a burn that may be more serious? Our expert explains.

We’re all aware of the damage prolonged sun exposure has on our skin, but have you ever thought about what risk it poses on your health (aside from increasing your risk of melanoma)? If you’ve ever had to deal with chills or felt nauseous after a day out in the sun, your body is trying to tell you something!

Dermalogica’s Director of Education and the International Dermal Institute’s Emma Hobson explains…

When it’s more than just a case of sunburn…

When the skin gets burnt the body reacts by the immune system triggering an inflammatory response to defend itself. A chemical release of histamine can occur, the skin can swell and you can end up feeling more than just sore under the shower. “When the body’s core temperature raises over 40 degrees from prolonged exposure to high temperatures often coupled with dehydration, it suffers from heat stroke,” explains Hobson.

“This condition is called hyperthermia, and it is arisen by the fact the body can’t dissipate the heat being generated due to the external temperature. Heatstroke can also be exacerbated by drinking alcohol or wearing tight clothing especially made from synthetics.”

So what symptoms should you look for? “A headache, feeling dizzy and light-headed, feeling very hot with red skin,” says Hobson. “You can also feel nauseous and experience vomiting. Even though the body is hot, there may be a lack of sweating. You can experience muscle cramps and feel very weak, or the heart may beat faster, and rapid breathing may occur.”

When it’s a really bad burn…

If skin starts to blister seek medical advice to avoid scarring or infection. “It’s important to take down the inflammation and try to reduce damage to the deeper layers of the skin,” says Hobson. “Take cool baths, if you don’t have a bath long, cool showers, avoid bath salts or bubble bath instead use a gentle, soap-free body wash and if you do have a bath put colloidal oatmeal and lavender oil in the water to it will help reduce the redness, take down the heat and inflammation, only blot (don’t rub) the skin dry. You can also keep cold towels or compresses in the fridge and apply them onto the ‘hot spots’ of your sunburn.”

And despite what you may think, applying heavy, greasy lotions and oils may actually make your skin feel worse. “They can prevent skin from cooling down, so use an after-sun repair gel instead,” explains Hobson.

“You can also spritz throughout the day an ultra-calming toner to also keep the skin cool and calm. Look for ingredients in your after-sun product such as clove, liquorice, lavender, cucumber, aloe vera and yucca to reduce irritation, pain, and redness. I highly recommend products that contain an incredible ingredient called Japanese Alder, and this can accelerate the repair of UV induced DNA damage. Couple this with ingredients such as algae and hyaluronic acid to rehydrate and you should be well on your way to a calmer skin,” she says.