The best possible thing to do for a summer sunburn is to avoid getting one. However, most people make a mistake at some point in their lives and end up with red, painful skin. When that happens, it is helpful to know what to do to alleviate the discomfort and to help the skin heal.
Sunburn: Bad or Very Bad
No sunburn is a good sunburn, but some burns are easier than others to recover from. “Even a single sunburn can increase a person’s risk of skin cancer. This is because when the skin absorbs ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, it can damage the genetic material in skin cells. In the short term, this damage can cause sun burns. In the long term, it builds up and raises the risk of skin cancer. This is a situation where if you get a few sunburns, that increases your risk of skin cancer. If you get lots of sunburns, that can increase your risk of skin cancer a lot,” points out Healthline.com.
As defined by the Mayo Clinic, sunburn is, “red, painful skin that feels hot to the touch — usually appears within a few hours after too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from sunshine or artificial sources such as sunlamps.” Sunburn occurs due to literally getting burned by Ultraviolet radiation, or UVR. In the case of a bad burn, you can feel quite ill and even the lightest burns are not comfortable to deal with. The only prevention for sunburn by covering up, using sunscreen and avoiding exposure.
One of the best descriptions that we have seen of how sunburn works is in a piece by Popular Mechanic: Anatomy of a Sunburn – A Timeline of Dermatological Destruction. In it, sunburn is described as follows:
The source of sunburn’s dermatological damage is ultraviolet (UV) rays, a more energetic form of light than what we use for vision. The UV we usually contend with comes in two flavors: UVA, which primarily causes wrinkling, and the stronger UVB, which produces the telltale signs of sunburn. Our planet’s ozone layer shields us from much of this UV radiation, and almost entirely absorbs a third kind, UVC, the most energetic and dangerous. With our hemisphere tilted more toward the sun in summer, and with a natural seasonal dip in ozone, it’s the most dangerous time for skin damage…[they define the following steps]
Step 1: Melanin puts up a fight.
Step 2: Blood flow ramps up.
Step 3: The pain of inflammation.
Step 4: Like a blister in the sun
Step 5: Peeling and healing.
The severity of a burn is a combination of the lightness of the skin, the amount of time spent in the sun, the time of day, the season, and the hemisphere. The consequences are more severe for full body burns than for smaller scale burns.
Treating sunburn is one of the first steps that anyone who finds themselves painfully pink after a bout of sun exposure should do. There is no ‘cure’, but there are definite ways to mitigate the pain, and to some extent, minimize the damage – especially if it is a one-time burn. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following steps be taken for sunburn:
The first thing you should do is get out of the sun—and preferably indoors. It is important to begin treating sunburn as soon as you notice it. Once indoors, these dermatologists’ tips can help relieve the discomfort:
- Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. As soon as you get out of the bathtub or shower, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Then, apply a moisturizer to help trap the water in your skin. This can help ease the dryness.
- Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe sunburned skin. If a particular area feels especially uncomfortable, you may want to apply a hydrocortisone cream that you can buy without a prescription. Do not treat sunburn with “-caine” products (such as benzocaine), as these may irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
- Consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, redness and discomfort.
- Drink extra water. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water when you are sunburned helps prevent dehydration.
- If your skin blisters, allow the blisters to heal. Blistering skin means you have a second-degree sunburn. You should not pop the blisters, as blisters form to help your skin heal and protect you from infection.
- Take extra care to protect sunburned skin while it heals. Wear clothing that covers your skin when outdoors. Tightly-woven fabrics work best. When you hold the fabric up to a bright light, you shouldn’t see any light coming through.
The best thing you can do for your skin though is to not get a sunburn at all.
Avoiding SunBurn: Do This
We at TSLMS don’t always turn to WebMD as a primary source of information, but in the case of their tips on avoiding sunburn, we are happy to follow them. They recommend staying out of the sun, but when you cannot, take these steps to avoid sun damage:
- Stay indoors between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s burning rays are the strongest.
- Protect your skin with clothing, a hat, and sunscreen if you go outside. Look for sun-protective clothing. Sunscreen protects your skin against the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Ultraviolet rays include UVA and UVB. UVA penetrates the skin deeper than UVB rays, causing wrinkles and contributing to skin cancer. UVB causes sunburn and is also a factor in skin cancer.The sun protection factor (SPF) in sunscreens tells you how well they prevent sunburns. Choose a sunscreen with the right SPF to avoid sunburn and skin damage.
This is sage and solid advice.