Why does the skin itch after sunbathing? How to soothe her?

How does your skin itch after sunbathing? What can you do to alleviate the discomfort?

Joanna Żołnierkiewicz
Joanna Żołnierkiewicz
only 9 minutes of reading!

Long-term exposure to the sun, especially without SPF protection, has unpleasant consequences. The skin itches after sunbathing , sometimes even burns, and the irritations become troublesome, especially in the evening. Why is this happening? Find out the answer to your question.

Ouch! My skin burns after sunbathing

The sun only needs 15 minutes to cause skin erythema (UVB radiation is primarily responsible for this effect). This time is referred to as the minimum erythematous dose (MED)  [1] . If you often expose your skin to the sun, especially during its peak activity hours (11 a.m.-3 p.m.), you must take into account serious consequences . Sunburn may occur after spending time in the sun without proper SPF protection . You may not feel them at first - they will make themselves felt in the evening, most intensely when you take a warm shower.

Itchy skin after sunbathing - the most common causes

Your skin may itch after sunbathing, and sometimes burn, for several important reasons. One of the more specific causes is the already mentioned sunburn . Remember that when tanning, your skin is constantly exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. What's more, no SPF cream protects it 100%. UV rays damage epidermal cells and can cause inflammation , which you may experience as itching and burning .

In extreme cases, when you expose your skin to the sun for too long and at the same time do not protect it with cosmetics with filters, redness, tissue pain and even blisters may appear . Burning and itching may also be accompanied by a feeling of heat . So try to protect your skin from UV radiation to avoid unpleasant consequences. Mild sunburns usually cause only a few days of discomfort , stronger ones can be very painful and bothersome in everyday life, and at the same time extremely dangerous . Failure to protect the epidermis from the sun also opens the door to the overproduction of free radicals that damage the structure of the skin tissue and accelerate its aging and the formation of cancer cells.

Attention! If you experience any disturbing symptoms or have difficulty soothing skin inflammation after exposure to the sun, it is always worth consulting a doctor.

Another cause of itchy skin after sunbathing may be excessive dryness . Long-term exposure of the epidermis to sun and heat may lead to dehydration of its cells. Under the influence of external factors, they quickly lose valuable moisture. And when the skin is very dry, it flakes and itches.

Hell's itch – hellish itching of the skin after sunbathing

The reason for the intense and annoying itching of the skin after sunbathing, giving the impression of a piercing, stabbing pain, which in the scientific literature is called "hell's itch", is not fully explained from a medical point of view. The analysis of this issue was undertaken in 2018 by student Adrian J. Wilder-Smith. He described "hell's itch" as a burning, burning pain in the skin, irritating, almost maddening . Unimaginably painful itching occurs approximately 48 hours after the onset of sunburn and mainly affects people with fair skin .

The symptoms of "hell's itch" appear in waves, only to disappear after another 48 hours and turn into excessive peeling of the skin. Wilder-Smith noticed that after a sunburn, during which pain occurs, the body releases bradykinin [2] , i.e. a tissue neurohormone. This hormone can irritate nerve endings, resulting in a burning and itching sensation .

itchy skin after sunbathing moisturizing

Other less common causes of itchy skin after exposure to the sun

Why else does the skin itch after sunbathing? One possibility is simply... sun allergy . Photosensitivity, known as photodermatosis , (e.g. solar urticaria), may manifest itself on the skin in the form of red and lighter spots, papules, pustules, vesicles and erythema. And, of course, they are often accompanied by itching. Photoallergic reactions usually disappear after a relatively short time. Pay attention to what you eat and what you use in your care, especially in summer. Some compounds may sensitize the skin to the sun or are photosensitizing (e.g. St. John's wort extract).

Other causes of itchy skin after sunbathing:

  • allergy to some ingredient of sunscreen (not necessarily the filter) - the skin may react with itching to the formula of the product used. Some chemical filters may cause contact skin allergies. However, this affects less than 1% of people;
  • allergy to an ingredient of suntan cream or oil - they may be rich in plant extracts. Sometimes these ingredients have an allergenic potential. When sunbathing, avoid using essential oils, especially citrus ones, as they may increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun;
  • skin diseases - exposing the body to the sun may exacerbate the symptoms of some skin diseases, e.g. atopic dermatitis;
  • insect bites - when outdoors, you must take into account that your body is exposed not only to UV rays, but also to insect bites - mosquitoes, midges or horseflies - whose bites can be itchy and sometimes painful.

How long does skin itch after sunbathing?

The length of time that your skin itches after sunbathing may vary depending on many factors , such as individual skin sensitivity, degree of sunburn, allergic reactions, etc. In most cases, mild itching and burning of the skin may subside within a few days or weeks.

However, if you have a more severe sunburn or other skin conditions such as photo allergies, severe inflammation or infections, the itching may last longer and require more intensive treatment.

Itchy skin after sunbathing? Check out home remedies that will soothe it

If you experience skin soreness, you can take a painkiller with paracetamol or ibuprofen (as recommended in the leaflet!) and/or an antihistamine.

Itchy skin after sunbathing can be soothed by:

  • cool compress - apply a damp towel to the itchy burn site;
  • buttermilk, sour milk or kefir;
  • strongly moisturizing cosmetics containing allantoin, panthenol, bisabolol, aloe, urea/or glycerin - these ingredients have hydrating, soothing properties, and some of them also have anti-inflammatory properties;
  • oatmeal or a lukewarm bath with plenty of oatmeal added;
  • grated cucumber on irritated places;
  • bath in lukewarm water with 2 liters of milk, honey and olive oil.

For the first few days, try to use cosmetics without artificial colors and flavors, essential oils and other ingredients with high irritation and allergenic potential . Also, give up preparations with retinol and salicylic acid for a while - you can return to them when the unpleasant symptoms disappear. Instead, look for emollients - vegetable fats, fatty alcohols, lipids that will retain moisture in the skin tissue cells. After a few days, when the itching subsides significantly, you can exfoliate the skin . This treatment will support and accelerate the regeneration of sun-damaged epidermis.

bath in milk for itchy skin after sunbathing

Don't do this if your skin itches after sunbathing:

  • do not use body wash gels with strong detergents such as SLS or SLES - they may excessively dry the skin and irritate it;
  • don't take hot baths;
  • After washing, do not rub your skin with a towel , but pat it gently;
  • don't scratch - refrain from doing so, even if you are tempted to do so.

Remember to protect your skin from excessive solar radiation by using creams with a UV filter, seeking shade and wearing appropriate protective clothing (don't forget about a hat and sunglasses). If you experience severe sunburn or persistent itching and burning, especially pain, it is best to consult your doctor for appropriate advice and treatment.

[1] Węgłowska J., Milewska A., Positive and negative effects of solar radiation, Postępy Kosmetologii 2/2011, vol. 2

[2] Adrian J Wilder-Smith, BMS, Itching hell from sunburn, Journal of Travel Medicine, Volume 26, Issue 1, 2019, tay124, https://doi.org/10.1093/jtm/tay124

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Joanna Żołnierkiewicz, editor-in-chief of beaumag.pl, associated with the beauty industry since 2016. Founder of the blog FlamingBlog.pl . Goal for 2024: start postgraduate studies "Cosmetic production technology". Email: joanna@beaumag.pl

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