Everyone who has experienced a sunburn is familiar with the unsightly skin peel after a sunburn which inevitably accompanies it. The peeling is caused by the sloughing off of dead skin to make way for the new, tender skin underneath. While it may not look too pleasant, it is an important part of the healing process, but there are several ways in which peeling can be reduced or be made slightly less unpleasant.
When your skin is sunburned, it's basically lightly cooked from the outside. Extended sun exposure causes severe damage to the upper layers of the skin, killing those skin cells and creating a characteristic area of redness and blistering, in the case of severe burns. Typically, in the first few days after the sunburn, the dead skin remains intact, while the body busily builds up new cells underneath; the dead skin acts as a protective layer while these cells grow, as they are very fragile when they are new.
The skin peels after a sunburn when the new cells underneath are ready to be exposed to the world, which happens to coincide with the time when the last of the moisture departs the damaged upper layers of the skin. The dried skin in turns starts to flake, peel, and eventually slough off to reveal brand-new cells underneath. During this phase, these cells are typically very vulnerable to sun damage, because they have not experienced the power of the sun before.
Obviously, the best way to avoid the infamous skin peel after a sunburn is to not get sunburned in the first place, with the use of protective garments and creams. In addition to preventing sunburn, protective steps will also keep the skin in better condition, which means that it will look better well into old age. Sunburn has also been linked with an elevated risk of certain cancers, which is another strong argument for covering up in the sun.
For those who are already sunburned, taking care of the sunburn can help ease the peeling process. Sunburned skin should be washed with mild soap in lukewarm to cool water and patted dry, rather than being rubbed. Some people find that a spritz of vinegar after a shower helps to ease the itching associated with sunburns, and also reduces peeling skin; an application of moisturizer can also help to keep the damaged skin moist, making it less prone to peeling. It is also a good idea to allow plenty of fresh air to pass the site, rather than keeping a sunburn under wraps. Eventually, however, the dead skin will have to go, and some people prefer to let nature take its course rather than trying to reduce the rate of peeling.