When summer rolls around again, the temptation to soak up the sun for hours and days on end is almost too good to pass up. However, it often comes at the cost of sunburns. Knowing how to treat sunburn is crucial.
Sunburn is a term used to refer to red, swollen, and even painful skin that is caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or sunlamps. Sunburns can also cause damage to the outer layer of the skin and make it blister.
Despite its dangers, the good news is that sunburn is absolutely preventable if you follow the right precautions.
Symptoms of Sunburn
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Sunburn ranges from mild to severe and it varies from person to person.
Sunburn can occur within 15 minutes but it’s not always obvious. Symptoms typically appear several to 24 hours after sun exposure. They take about 48 hours to a week to start subsiding and the effects can last for several weeks or months.
Redness can occur in 30 minutes but usually shows after 2 to 6 hours. You may start to feel extreme pain 6 to 48 hours after exposure and it may not go away for up to 72 hours afterward. When the sunburn goes down, your skin will start to peel off as it sheds off damaged cells. It may be accompanied by itching and it can take a few days or several weeks.
Minor sunburn involves a little redness and tenderness in the burnt areas. Serious sunburns cause blistering and in extreme cases, you may feel pain to the point of being weak.
Symptoms in severe cases include:
- Nausea and vomiting
In extreme cases, the symptoms are:
- Extreme exhaustion
- Low blood pressure
What Causes Sunburn?
The sun emits different types of radiation. They include infrared radiation (makes you feel the heat of the sun), visible light (the white light that you see from the sun), and ultraviolet light that causes sunburns.
When ultraviolet sun rays touch your skin, a pigment known as melanin which is responsible for giving color to your skin, absorbs them before they cause damage. Melanin does this by darkening your skin so that the radiation doesn’t penetrate and damage the DNA underneath.
UV exposure speeds up the production of melanin so that’s why you get a tan when you bask in the sun for some time.
However, melanin is not impenetrable; some sun rays can get through to damage DNA and cause melanin to produce free radicals (high-energy particles that reverberate madly and damage cells).
The amount of melanin produced varies from one person to another because it’s determined by genetics. This is why some people get a sunburn while others develop a tan. For people with less melanin, overexposure to the sun causes their skin to redden, swell, and become painful.
Damaged cells set off warning signals in the body that trigger an inflammatory response. The various blood cells then gather at the affected area and that is why the skin turns red and tender to the touch.
Risk Factors for Sunburn
Anyone can get sunburnt but certain factors increase the susceptibility to sunburn:
- Having fair skin which means you have less melanin to protect you from the sun
- Working outdoors where there’s constant exposure to sunlight
- Regularly exposing unprotected skin to the sun or sunlamps and tanning beds
- Living or vacationing in a place that’s sunny or is at a high altitude where there’s less atmosphere to block sun rays
- If you have a history of sunburn – the burns damage the skin and make you more susceptible.
- Taking drugs with photosensitizing properties which make you more sensitive to sunlight
How to Prevent Sunburn
As it is often said, prevention is better than cure. This saying is also true of sunburn and there are several ways you can protect yourself:
Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The sun is at its strongest intensity at this time so avoid being outdoors then. If you must, make it quick or seek shade as often as possible.
Wear Protective Clothing
Clothes that cover your arms and legs and wide-brimmed hats will protect your skin from the worst of the sun rays. Purchase clothes with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) to receive better protection. Tightly woven and dark-colored fabrics are also very effective at blocking the sun from penetrating.
Before stepping out, make sure you apply a generous layer of sunscreen on skin that won’t be covered by your clothes. Use a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 or more. Apply more every 40-80 minutes and if you’re swimming or sweating profusely, do it sooner. Throw away sunscreen that has expired or is more than 3 years old as it won’t be effective.
Wear Sunglasses Outdoors
Your eyes and the skin around them are easily damaged by the sun. Put on sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection. Checking for the UV rating will also help in buying the most suitable sunglasses. Make sure to also choose the ones that fit perfectly on your face to block the sun from every direction.
Beware of Photosensitizing Medication
Some drugs like antidepressants, antihistamines, antipsychotics, and ibuprofen make you more sensitive to sunlight. If your pharmacist confirms that you’re using such drugs, take extra caution to protect yourself from the sun in the above-mentioned ways.
How to Treat Sunburn: Natural Remedies
To get soothing relief from sunburn, there are natural remedies you can try at the comfort of your home with readily available items:
Cool water from the ocean, swimming pool, lake, or even bath will help take away the sting from sunburn. Dip yourself in water frequently to stop the sunburn from getting worse.
You can also press down a padded cold compress on the sunburn. Avoid placing ice directly on the skin as it can cause a cold burn. Instead, wrap a hand towel on a baggie filled with ice and place it on the affected area.
Baking soda will help in balancing the pH levels of your skin and this helps reduce inflammation, redness, and pain from sunburn. You can make a paste by mixing a few tablespoons with water and gently applying it on the skin or add it to your bathwater and soak in it for 15 minutes.
It has both healing and anti-inflammatory properties for your sunburn. The gel from its leaves heals the skin at the epithelial level because of its nutrients and antioxidants that speed up the healing process. Always try using pure organic aloe vera gel. For example 100% natural aloe vera gel is this one here.
It has anti-inflammatory properties that will help ease the swelling, redness, and pain of your sunburn. Make an oatmeal paste by mixing it with milk and apply it on the sunburn. The lactic acid in the milk is an exfoliator and it will help the skin shed off damaged cells.
Because of its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and moisturizing factors, honey is great for soothing sunburns and all sorts of abrasions. Simply take a little honey and rub it gently on the burn.
Apple Cider Vinegar
It contains acetic acid that helps with easing the pain and inflammation of your sunburn. Soak a cotton ball in the apple cider vinegar and dab it on the affected area. This remedy is for mild sunburns and not for those that have blistered. The acid can cause burns of its own.
Remedies for Blisters
Blisters result from severe sunburns and they should be treated with gentle care. You can use cold compresses, apply aloe vera, and moisturizers to ease the burn and assist the healing process.
Under no circumstances should you pop them since it will cause infections and lead to scarring. If they pop on their own, clean the area, apply ointment, and bandage using gauze.
Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration which will prevent the blister from healing. You should also avoid sun exposure until they heal.
Complications Brought by Sunburn
Severe sunburn doesn’t just affect the skin. It leads to some health complications that are often irreversible.
Excessive sunburn damages the DNA of skin cells and increases the risk of developing skin cancer (melanoma) later in life. It mostly develops in areas of the skin that are exposed to sunlight like the face, arms, and legs which further supports this theory.
Repeated sun exposure and sunburns cause the stem cells to be damaged which leads to wrinkling and thinning of the skin. UV radiation causes aging by also activating enzymes known as metalloproteinases that break down collagen which boosts skin elasticity.
When to See a Doctor
Sunburn heals on its own with time but if you notice the following, seek medical assistance immediately:
- If the blisters cover a very portion of your skin
- If the sunburn is followed by extreme pain, headaches, high fever, confusion, chills or nausea
- Sunburn doesn’t improve after a few days
- The swelling and tenderness increases
- Discharge of yellow pus from an open blister
- Red streaks around an open blister
- Sunburn doesn’t respond to treatment within 2 days.
Sunburn can be a bother so follow the above steps and you’ll have a hustle-free summer!