We are serious about sun safety and with the summer comes more outdoor activities. A common problem during spring and summer, sunburn can cause skin to become tender, red, and even scaly. Without the proper protection of sunscreen and clothing, sunburn can cause long-term damage, as well as considerable pain and discomfort.
To help prevent sunburn and decrease the risk of skin cancer, board-certified dermatologist Elizabeth S. Martin, MD, FAAD, recommends the following tips:
- Seek shade when appropriate. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, seek shade.
- Wear protective clothing. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses wherever possible.
- Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. The sunscreen should have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more, and it should be applied to all exposed skin areas. “Broad spectrum” provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. For maximum protection, reapply sunscreen approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
“Sunburn is better prevented than treated, but if you do get a sunburn, it’s important to begin treating it as soon as you notice it,” said Dr. Martin. “The first step you should take is to get out of the sun – and preferably indoors.”
To help heal and soothe sunburned skin, Dr. Martin recommends the following tips:
- 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.
For more information about how to prevent skin cancer, visit the Academy’s SpotSkinCancer.org.
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