Lifestyle Blog: Sun Exposure and Sunburn
What are Sunburn and Sun Damage?
Sunshine! It’s so much fun to play in the sun! But sunburn is no fun at all. Almost all of us have experienced sunburn at some point. Pain, soreness, pinkness/redness, skin flaking, sometimes even swelling, blisters and ulceration. Some people also feel like they have the flu – you feel like you have a high temperature, can have chills, nausea, headache and feel tired or weak.
The best things to do to avoid sunburn are learn about the risks and take steps to prevent it.
Let’s start with how sunburn happens:
The light from the sun can be broken into three wavelengths of ultraviolet (UV) light:
UV-A (315-400 nm wavelength, not visible, not absorbed in atmosphere)
UV-B (280-315 nm wavelength, not visible, mostly absorbed in atmosphere)
UV-C (100-280 nm wavelength, not visible, completely absorbed in atmosphere)
UV-C doesn’t even make it to earth’s surface, so unless you find yourself in space (maybe in the near future?) you don’t have to worry about this one.
UV-A and UV-B both reach the surface of the earth and both penetrate your skin. While at first it serves to warm your skin up, help your body create some useful Vitamin D (UV-B), and give you a slightly darker complexion, they can also harm your skin.
Sun damage (also called photoaging) from UV-A (and some UV-B) can also lead to alterations in the DNA of your skin cells and eventually to skin cancers. Sun damage and UV-A over-exposure can also lead to thickened (“leathery”) appearance, early onset of skin wrinkles, dryness, spotting, and saggy skin. To learn about the long-term effects in detail, click here.
The amount of time it takes a person’s skin to burn is based primarily on three variables:
Type of skin
Length of time spent in sun
The sun’s intensity (cloudy day versus direct sun with no clouds)
Let’s look at how to prevent over-exposure step by step:
#1. KNOW your skin type. In 1975 a skin chart was developed to help people understand their risk of sunburn due to over-exposure. Skin types are as follows:
#2. Time your sun exposure. Watch the clock. Don’t remain exposed without going back inside or re-applying a sun-block.
#3. Speaking of sun blocks (and sunscreens): Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater and that is “broad spectrum” (meaning it blocks both UV-A and UV-B). For outdoor gear, they list the clothing’s ability to block sun rays as “UPF.” The higher, the more it blocks.
Sunscreens are good for 3 years (FDA requirement). Check the dates on your products if they aren’t new. Apply *before* heading outside. Re-apply every 40-80 minutes. Even sooner if it washes off because you’re in the water or sweating it off.
#4. Know that the strongest sun rays are between 10am and 4pm. If you are sensitive, you may want to time your activities so that you avoid the harshest part of the day
#5. Avoid tanning beds. I know – you want that nice golden tan for pictures. You’ve been warned. You know who you are.
#6. Lastly, know if medications that you are taking might make you more sensitive to burns. Common examples are anti-histamines, ibuprofen, some antibiotics, antidepressants, and some lipid-lowering drugs. Check the product information or ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions.
Ok, you’ve done it. You stayed in the sun too long and now you have painful, red skin. You can attack the burn in two ways: first, pain relief and second, relieve the inflammation (redness, swelling). Here are some remedy ideas:
Cold compresses or cold baths/showers: cool water can help soothe the skin. If the burn is small enough, you might be able to use a washcloth (clean!) to apply cool water. If the burn is more extensive or on a hard to reach spot, you might need to use a bath or shower.
Creams: there are dozens and dozens of creams and lotions available that help reduce the pain and inflammation of sunburn. Look for these ingredients:
Menthol: helps reduce pain
Camphor: helps soothe and moisturize
Aloe: helps soothe and moisturize
Stay hydrated: depending on the severity of your burn, you may lose water (you won’t notice this), but it can lead to headaches and fatigue. Drink lots of water (or something like Gatorade or Powerade) to make sure you stay hydrated.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but:
AVOID the sun. I know, I know. You got burned on the first day of vacation and there’s no way you’re going to stay inside. You have to find a way to avoid the sun. Stay in the shade. Wear long sleeve shirts. Buy a sun hat. Convince your friends or family members to play cards with you. Do whatever it takes! Additional sun exposure after a burn can lead to serious sun damage.
Finally, there are some symptoms that you’ll want to watch for – symptoms that need to be dealt with by a doctor:
Fever of 102 degrees or higher
Severe pain (7 or higher out of 10)
Sunburn blisters that cover 20% of your body
Signs of significant dehydration: dry mouth (cotton mouth), reduced urination, dizziness, and fatigue
Sun exposure is wonderful and helps your body create Vitamin D, avoids seasonal depression, and can give you a nice tan. However, over-exposure has some serious consequences. Take the proper preventative steps so you aren’t putting yourself at risk… it only takes a few minutes to prevent, but sometimes days to recover!
Dr. Nick has been practicing medicine for over 10 years. After finishing his MD he began his residency in Laboratory Medicine where he gained first hand knowledge of some of the effects of dietary supplements. Dr. Nick now specializes in gastrointestinal health, Over the years of vigorous study and in-depth experimenting with a variety of dietary supplements Dr. Nick found that there are few sources of clear, evidence-backed, honest information about what the supplements can help achieve - and what they cannot. There are many companies out there selling promises without providing results.
Dr. Nick's goal is to educate the general public and do his part to help the world get healthy again. The industry needed an honest educated practitioner to reveal the real benefits of specific dietary supplements and to unbiasedly dig into the formulas and companies selling these formulas to reveal the true Pros and Cons of each supplement and to educate the general public about these ingredients found in various dietary supplements. Dr. Nick promoting general health and proper use of nutritional supplements is step one of the goal. In order to get the best effects without wasting time and money, a proper understanding of chemistry and human physiology are critically important. Since not everyone has the time to master these topics, Dr. Nick hopes to help clarify otherwise complicated topics and give the best, clear, evidence-backed input to help each person select the most appropriate supplements.