No One Wants a Nice Day in the Sun Ruined By a Sunburn
If heading out into the sun, always remember to carry sunscreen to avoid sunburns. The ultraviolet rays from the sun can damage the skin and is also a sign of damage to the skin. Sunburns are very easy to end up with due to excess exposure. Sunlight can cause long-term problems to the skin and eyes, including premature aging and skin cancer. It can be mild or severe, depending on the length and intensity of exposure and whether an individual has had it before. Sunburn is most common in children and teens because their skin is thinner than adults' and burns more easily.
There are two types of sunscreen: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreen blocks ultraviolet light by reflecting it away from the skin, while chemical sunscreen absorbs UV rays before reaching the skin. Some people with sensitive skin may have an allergic reaction to sunscreen that causes their skin to burn more easily than usual when exposed to sunlight or artificial ultraviolet light sources.
The severity of sunburn is determined by the degree of skin redness, pain, blisters, and rawness. Redness may appear immediately after exposure or several hours later. Pain may also occur immediately or up to 48 hours after exposure. The sun's rays can reflect off sand, snow, and water, making them more dangerous than they seem. This is especially true if someone is near reflective surfaces like snow or water.
Blisters are not always present with superficial burns. Still, they may appear several days after exposure in deeper burns, especially if there has been contact with rough surfaces like sandpaper or concrete.
Potential Complications of Sunburns
There’s many additional issues that can occur if someone is becoming sunburned severely or chronically. These include:
- Skin cancer - Sunburns are a risk factor for melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. Even one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence doubles the risk of developing melanoma later in life.
- Increased risk of other cancers - People who have had five or more blistering sunburns have a 30 percent higher lifetime risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal and squamous cell carcinomas, according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2013. Other research has found that people who get two or more blistering sunburns during their first 20 years may be at increased risk for lung and esophageal cancer later in life.
- Photosensitivity reactions - Sunburn can make one more sensitive to light, which can cause photosensitivity reactions such as sun allergy and polymorphic light eruption (PMLE), a red rash that appears after exposure to sunlight or artificial light therapy used for psoriasis treatment).
- Premature aging - When the skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, it becomes damaged and ages prematurely.
- Skin wrinkling - Repeated sun exposure may cause premature wrinkling of the skin.
The best way to avoid sunburn is to avoid being in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are strongest and most damaging. If a person has to be out in the sun during these times, wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to exposed areas 30 minutes before going outside.
Sunscreen should be applied liberally — enough to look a little white on the skin — all over exposed areas such as arms, legs, face, ears, and neck. Avoid applying sunscreen near the eyes because it may irritate them if it gets into them accidentally.
Sunburn treatment depends on how bad the burn is and how much of the body is affected. Below are some ways of the treating it:
- Sunscreen - Sunscreen or sunblock helps prevent sunburn, but it doesn't work if one is already burned. Apply sunscreen liberally and at least 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours — more often if swimming or sweating heavily — or after towel drying, even if the product says "water resistant."
- Cool compresses - Cool compresses can ease pain and swelling caused by severe burns. Soak a washcloth in cold water, wring it out well, then place it on the skin for 10 to 15 minutes at a time as needed until the symptoms improve. Don't use ice packs because they can cause frostbite if left on too long or applied directly to the burn area.
- Leave it alone - If the skin is peeling, don't pick it off because it will just bleed underneath and make matters worse. Instead, gently wash the skin with soap and water and apply moisturizer — preferably one with aloe vera — several times a day to help heal the damaged tissue underneath. One should see improvement within a week.