Tag Archives: sunburn

Facts About Sunburn

Sunburn means damage to your skin. The pain and discomfort is a sign that damage has occurred. The specific cause is a molecule in the skin called TRPV4, which is also associated with a common hereditary disease that affects the larynx. In the skin—in particular, the outermost epidermal layer of the skin—it responds to the UVB rays in sunlight by triggering a response the brings calcium to the surface of the skin. The calcium, in turn, comes with a chemical called endothelin, which causes pain and itching, but also draws more calcium—and more endothelin. But sunburn does more than suffuse your skin with calcium. Over time, the UV rays that cause sunburn can also lead to skin cancer.

Unfortunately the damage happens early. In fact, according to a recent study, skin cancer risk in middle age or beyond is 80 percent higher in people who had five or more sunburns between ages 15 and 20 —a large increase for what is already the most common form of cancer in the United States. Even study subjects with no family history of skin cancer were more prone to develop it themselves if they had multiple blistering sunburns as adolescents.

The good news is that while early sunburn is a risk, avoiding sunburn even later in life can still provide some measure of protection. People who are especially prone to burning—people with fair skin, people who take certain medications, anyone who drinks while or immediately before going out in the sun—should be especially cautious. That means covering up as much as is possible when going out in the summer. It means wide-brimmed hats and UV-protecting sunglasses. It means staying in the shade, including the portable shade of a parasol for people with a particular tendency to burn.

It also means sunscreen. Experts say that sunscreen doesn't provide complete protection, but it does significantly improve matters. Sunscreen should have a sun protection factor of 30 or higher. A shot-glass-full is enough to cover most adults, though people showing more skin—or people with more skin to show—may need more. Some form of sunburn protection is important even on cloudy days, and even for people who aren't planning to simply soak up rays. It should be applied 15 minutes before going outside and reapplied every two hours. Even waterproof sunscreen could probably stand to be reapplied after it gets wet, especially after a dip in the pool.

Sunburn Safety and Salve

Summertime is a time for fun in the sun, but sunburn can mean the fun stops. Sunburn is painful because it is a sign of damage to your skin. It happens when ultraviolet light from the sun—or a tanning bed or other artificial source—burns and destroys skin tissue cells.

The best approach is to avoid sunburn in the first place. The most effective way to do this is, obviously, to stay indoors and not be exposed to sunlight, but you miss out on a lot of summer activities that way. Most people don’t need to go that far, however. What you do need to do is stay in the shade when you can, perhaps carrying a parasol if you’re particularly prone to burning.

When this isn’t feasible—for example, when being in the sun is the whole point, such as at the beach—use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. If you’re especially fair-skinned or have a family history of skin cancer, you should use something stronger. Water resistant is best even if you’re not swimming; you may get splashed or perspire it off otherwise.

Apply sunscreen to all skin that is likely to be exposed at least 20 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply it every two hours. Most people need about an ounce of sunscreen (a shot-glass full) for complete coverage, more if you’re particularly tall, particularly large, or particularly exposed.

If you do get burned, the damage is already done; all you can really do at that point is deal with the discomfort. The most important things to remember for that are cool, moist, and gentle: Take a cold bath, or apply towels soaked in cool water to the affected areas. Apply moisturizing lotion liberally, but be sure to avoid products with alcohol or benzocaine. Alcohol will only dry the skin out further—and not just when you apply it topically, but also when you drink it—while benzocaine has been linked to a possibly fatal condition. continue with moisturizer once the skin has begun to peel, and be gentle with the area. Peeling is normal; it gets rid of already damaged skin.

Don’t peel or pop blisters. This slows down healing, and popped blisters are prone to infection. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin can also help. See a doctor if you have symptoms of sun poisoning, such as dizziness, nausea, rapid heartrate, dehydration, light sensitivity or severe blisters, or if sunburn signs are accompanied by fever or last longer than a few days.