Serious burns need to have immediate treatment by a doctor or hospital. There is extreme risk of shock, tissue death and infection. Don’t take any chances.
I can only describe what worked for my situation. I have extremely fair skin which burns instantly. My skin is incapable of tanning. In less than 2 minutes exposure to Death Valley sun in the summer at midday, my skin turned bright red. My spouse had cajoled me out of the air conditioned car into looking at some rocks they collected… mostly because he did not believe I could burn that fast. Basically, 90 seconds of intense sun was enough to burn my skin. This was 30 years ago when the sun was not near as severe as it is now. You are literally cooking your skin with solar radiation. Reflections from water or desert sand multiplies the burn effect. This is why it is essential to protect yourself with the highest sun blocker available. You usually don’t feel the burn until a couple hours after the sunburn.
In my case, I also spent 2 years in Central America. The worse place imaginable for an extremely fair skinned blond. I have had some of the worst sunburns imaginable where the skin blisters and peels off in sheets. I don’t go out in the sun and have not suffered a burn in almost 2 decades. I can share what I did to treat my own sunburns as an example of what methods we had to use decades ago when we did not have access to reliable medical care and sunburn products. I did not consider the military dispensaries or “medics” provided for DOD (Department of Defense) families to be “reliable” medical care. So we were basically left to fend for ourselves. However, I cannot advise any medical treatments for anyone else since I am not a doctor. I can only describe what methods I used for my own personal situation. I do emphasize how serious these burns can become and the urgency for immediate medical care by a qualified doctor or hospital.
Keeping in mind that the only sunburn treatment we had available back in my youth was Solarcaine which was like spraying grease into a burn. Greasy or oily substances are the worst things you can use. Despite the archaic beliefs and old wives tales, grease is the LAST thing you want to put on a burn. Cold water and ice are the primary treatments to a heat or sun related burn. Even as a child I knew this much and I knew better than to allow my mother to use butter or any of her antiquated methods on me. Common sense dictated that cold water and ice were the best treatments for sun or heat related burns. (Chemical burns are a completely different issue & are not addressed in this article).
Since I did not have access to reliable medical care during the two years I lived in Central America, the primary goal for me was to stop the pain of the sunburn. Until 2 or 3 decades ago, there were no better pharmaceutical sunburn treatment products other than Solarcaine’s spray grease and cortisone creams. So, we had to devise our own alternatives.
The pain from any kind of burns continues to burn for hours. I discovered applying alcohol to the sunburned area with a cotton pad would reduce the heat and burning sensation by as much as 70%. Yes, it dries out the skin more… but my main concern was to eliminate the pain and heat of the burn. The burned area continued to produce an enormous amount of heat. After the alcohol was applied, I generously covered the sunburn with Noxzema. This has a very cooling effect to help reduce the heat generated by the burn while protecting the skin. It also seemed to reduce the amount of peeling after the sunburn. I continued to add more Noxzema to the area until the skin cooled down. This was just the plain, original Noxzema.
Even on those occasions when I burned my fingers with steam or boiling water, I kept those fingers immersed in a jar of Noxzema for hours until the burning stopped. Noxzema has always been my main source of relief from burns.
If I had clean ice available, I have also used ice to cool down the burns. However, ice can contain bacteria. Especially ice obtained from an ice chest used for foods can contain deadly bacteria. So it is better if the ice is clean and always contained inside of a clean zip lock plastic bag. I do not directly apply the ice in case there is any bacteria in it. We did not have blue ice back then, however, the small soft blue ice packs would also work well in reducing burning but care should be taken not to freeze the skin. Ice has to be removed frequently to prevent the skin from freezing which could cause permanent damage. Common sense must be applied in the use of ice. Having more than one soft blue ice pack will allow you to swap out to another pack when one has lost its coldness.
After the burning abated, I then used pure aloe vera to help heal the burn. Beware that a lot of aloe vera products contain dyes and other ingredients. I never use anything but 100% pure aloe vera. It can now be purchased without additives and dyes if you look for it. Walgreens used to carry 100% dye free aloe vera in large bottles. However, in my day, we had to grow aloe vera in our windows and break off portions of the plant to use the aloe on burns.
My son who is a redhead, also has extremely fair skin (not the kind with freckles). Extremely pale skin that sunburns instantly. He managed to obtain a severe sunburn when he was about 15, while spending the day on a river bank trying to impress a girl. I treated his burns and took him to the doctor, but his burns were so severe that he could not tolerate any type of fabric on his skin. Just trying to lay on the bed sheets felt like sandpaper to his injured skin. Even covering the furniture with sheets was not soft enough for his skin. So I gave him one of my nylon nightgowns. Nylon is the one fabric which is completely smooth under a microscope. It is softer than silk. The nylon protected his burned skin against the abrasions of any other fabrics on furniture and allowed him relief. He did not appreciate the embarrassment of wearing his mother’s nightgown… but he would not give it up because it was the only thing he could tolerate against his skin. He was willing to ensure the embarrassment because of the relief the nylon provided for his burned skin.
The only reason I included this story is to emphasize how nylon is the only fabric which severely sunburned skin can tolerate. So when you find yourself or your family member suffering from a severe sunburn and they cannot even tolerate bed sheets, nylon is the one fabric which can be tolerated and will help provide protection and allow them some relief from the suffering. This is info you can’t obtain from a doctor or from an internet medical site. But it is important to remember.
Nothing will prevent damaged and blistered skin from peeling. These are serious 2nd and 3rd degree burns which you should avoid getting in the first place. These burns should be seen by a qualified medical professional. They can become infected or necrotic where there is tissue death. Doctors have medicines to can help you which can only be obtained by prescription. There are also care clinics available for immediate care which we did not have prior to the 1990’s.
There are also many kinds of products for first aid and treating sunburns which we did not have a couple decades ago. I don’t know the effectiveness of these. It is a good idea to have sunburn ointments on hand whenever you are going on an outing to the beach, boating, fishing, camping, hiking, etc., or even doing yard work. On any outing where you could be subjected to sunlight which is a lot more damaging today than it was 30 years ago, you should protect yourself with the highest sunscreen protection available. Your sun blocker (sunscreen) lotion must have UVA, UVB and IRA blocking for the best protection against sunburns and deadly melanoma. I wont use anything less than SPF 45 but that does not guarantee UVA or UVB protection unless it states so.
You should buy your sunscreen (SPF 45-50 with UVA & UVB blockers) and sunburn treatment medicines before you plan to spend any time out in the sun. I would also recommend a large jar of Noxzema and a large bottle of 100% pure aloe vera for your medicine cabinet as well. Plus some nylon nightgowns… just in case.
The burning pain usually wont hit you until later in the day and you do not want to be suffering after the stores are closed. So stock your medicine cabinet with the sun blockers, burn treatments and medical supplies before you need them. Do not wait until you have a serious sunburn to purchase these items.
I highly recommend reading this Wikipedia article about sunscreens and the types of ingredients they contain (good and bad), to educate yourself on what types of sunscreens you should buy, which ingredients and protections you need and which ingredients to avoid.
In the 60’s and 70’s, females were obsessed with sunbathing to get tans. The sister of a close friend was one of these obsessive sunbathers. She lived just outside of the Los Angeles area. 20 years later, when she was in her 40’s, her skin was quite brown, hard and leathery. She was half Swedish and half Italian. She looked like her skin had been stained with a brown shoe polish. She went far beyond the Malibu look. She also looked 20 years older than her true age. It was clear she had a serious obsession with tanning. She looked so bad, it is difficult to describe how bizarre she looked with deep brown leathery skin, blue eyes and blond hair. It was truly like someone covered her with liquid brown shoe polish stain. Needless to say, she died a year later from melanoma. Her own brother had melanoma ten years earlier and barely managed to survive. He is a farmer, not a sunbather… but she did not heed the warning from his close call with melanoma and she continued to sunbathe every day. It was truly an obsession which cost her life.
I also incurred serious burns on the bottom of my feet when I was a teen. I was late returning to class from lunch and needed to run the length of an asphalt parking lot but could not run in my sandals, so I took them off and ran barefoot across the 200 ft long asphalt parking lot. It was not hot outside. Perhaps only 65 degrees. But when I reached the other end of the parking lot, I could not walk. I had enormous, liquid filled blisters on the bottom of both feet. The entire ball and heel of each foot was covered with a giant 1/2 inch thick, liquid filled blister. These were literally 1/2 inch thick fluid filled blister pillows covering the entire soles of both feet where they had contacted the pavement.
I never felt the heat of the asphalt. It was cool weather outside, but asphalt absorbs heat from the sun, even on a cool day. To my feet, it was like running on a frying pan. I should have simply been late to class. That would have been a lot more sensible than the suffering I incurred. I could not walk nor wear my shoes and had to be carried to class. I was unable to stand on the massive amount of liquid inside the blisters so I drained them. That was worse! A HUGE mistake! That allowed my outer skin to come into contact with the severely burned layers below without any buffer in-between. The liquid had provided an insulating layer before I drained it. Too late! It was one of the most horrific burns I ever experienced. Only to be exceeded by a soldering iron burn years later. Both incurring the most excruciating pain imaginable.
I mention this story in case someone else burns the bottom of their feet and has the mistaken idea that draining the fluid in the blisters will improve the situation. I could not walk either way and the pain was far more severe by a factor of 10 after I drained the fluid. Not to mention the extreme danger of inducing infection. As a teen, I had no idea the danger and risk these blisters could have posed to my health.
I must remind everyone how a former President’s son died from a blister he got from wearing his shoes without socks while playing tennis. Calvin Coolidge Jr, age 16. He died from blood poisoning just 7 days after he got a blister.
This is an example of just how deadly a simple blister or burn can be. Infection is an extremely high risk for severe burns and blisters.
It is imperative to remember that any burn or blister can rapidly become serious and even life threatening. It is urgently imperative to seek prompt medical treatment by a qualified doctor or hospital. Do not delay in obtaining medical treatment.