Preventing and Treating Sunburn

What are the risks of sunburn

Sunburns are best avoided, but if one strikes, there are ways you can alleviate the pain. For tips on preventing and treating sunburn, read on.

Everyone knows to avoid excessive sun exposure, but mistakes happen. An hour at the pool turns into an afternoon, or you miss a spot with the sunscreen application, and you’ve got a sunburn.

What causes a sunburn? 
Sunburn strikes when the sun’s UV rays react with your skin. Your skin starts by ramping up melanin production — that’s what gives you a tan. But your skin can produce only so much melanin, so eventually it burns. Sunburned skin will be red and painful and feel warm. Your skin won’t always redden right away — sunburn might show up a few hours later. Mild sunburns will fade in a few days, while more severe burns with blisters and peeling might take a few weeks to heal.

What can you do to prevent sunburn?
Keep the sun’s rays off your skin and you’ll keep sunburn at bay. Be vigilant — just 15 minutes in the sun can burn fair skin. Pay special attention to often-overlooked spots such as your ears, lips, scalp, and the tops of your feet. For maximum protection, follow these tips:

  • Stay away from the sun’s rays when they’re strongest, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Cover up with long sleeves and pants and a broad-brimmed hat. There are lightweight clothing lines especially designed for sun protection.
  • Slather on a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more a half-hour before you head outside, and reapply every two hours, even on overcast days.
  • Wear glasses, sunglasses, or contact lenses with UV protection, since the sun’s rays can damage your eyes.
  • Use a lip balm with sunscreen.
  • Protect your skin in the car. The sun’s rays can pass through the glass.
  • Steer clear of a base tan. Some people believe that gradual tanning can block burning, but there’s no evidence to support this theory. And tanning still puts you at risk for long-term sun damage.
  • Take extra caution if you are using a medication that increases your risk of sun damage.
  • Be especially careful to protect children from the sun. Most long-term sun damage is due to childhood sun exposure.
  • Avoid tanning booths. If you like the sun-kissed look, try sunless tanning gels or lotions.

How can you treat a sunburn? 
Of course, the best treatment is prevention. But if you find yourself treating a sunburn, here are some at-home tips that can help:

  • Take over-the-counter pain medication
  • Apply cool compresses
  • Use aloe vera lotion or spray
  • Try hydrocortisone cream
  • Drink lots of fluids
  • Don’t break blisters, but if they break on their own, apply an antibacterial cream and cover them with gauze

See your doctor if your sunburn

  • blisters
  • has symptoms such as fever or nausea along with it
  • isn’t healing within a few days
  • shows signs of infection

What are the risks of sunburn?
In the short term, sunburns are uncomfortable, and sunburns that blister create the potential for infection. Long term, sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer and accelerates the signs of aging.

Sunburns are best avoided, but if your skin burns, don’t panic. Just treat it, let it heal, and remember to protect it next time.