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Sunburn - causes, prevention and treatment

Sunburn is when your skin becomes burnt from the sun. Everyone can suffer from sunburn, but children and light skinned and fair haired adults are particularly at risk. Those with red hair and freckles are the most at risk from sunburn. The burn is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and is the result of too much exposure to the sun. The usual mild symptoms of sunburn are red or reddish skin that is hot to the touch, general fatigue and mild dizziness. Such mild cases should cause discomfort but no long lasting effects. There may be some skin loss or peeling which can be very itchy.

In recent years, the incidence and severity of sunburn has increased worldwide, especially in the southern hemisphere, because of damage to the ozone layer. There is a fear of developing skin cancer. Malignant melanoma (cancerous skin tumors) can occur as a result of damage to the skin from over exposure to the sun and can be fatal. Wrinkles and premature ageing can also result from too much sun and this condition is called photoageing. Another consequence can be premature cataract formation in the eyes.


Tips to avoid sunburn

  •  A small amount of sun every day can be a good thing as it produces beneficial Vitamin D in the skin but we must emphasize the word small. Sunburn can occur in less than 15 minutes.
  • If you are going to be in the sun for leisure or work activities, then you must wear protective clothing such as wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Pay special attention to the back of the neck which can often be exposed.
  • Use a sun block with a high sun protection factor as the higher the SPF number the more protection the sun block will have. Make sure you apply enough sunscreen, in thick layers, and that you reapply it at regular intervals. If you are swimming or sweating, the sun block is going to lose its effectiveness. Sunscreens are not waterproof.
  • Make sure you have a watch so you can keep an eye on the time and recognize how long you have been in the sun. Try to avoid sun exposure during the hours of 10 am to 2 pm when the sun’s rays are most intense.
  • The use of alcohol or drugs can make you less aware of the dangers of sunburn.
  • If you are using certain medications such as antibiotics, antipsoriatics or acne medicines, you may be even more sensitive to the sun. And skin that has been scarred or injured is even more susceptible.
  • Certain skin disorders such as herpes simplex, lupus and prophyria may become worse if you are exposed to the sun.
  • Stay away from tanning beds as these can be dangerous.
  • Remember that the eyes are very sensitive to sun exposure and preferably wrap around sun glasses which block UV light should be worn.

Tips for the relief of mild sunburn

  • Take a pain killer as this can be useful to relieve some of the pain and discomfort.
  • Take a cool bath but don’t use any bath salts, oils or perfumes because they may cause a sensitivity reaction. Don’t scrub or rub the skin and avoid shaving. Use soft towels to gently pat yourself dry and apply a light skin moisturizer but this should be fragrant free.
  • You can use a cool compress with equal parts of milk and water on the affected areas.
  • Keep out of the sun until all signs of your mild sunburn have disappeared
  • Continue to keep the skin moisturized.
  • Drink plenty of liquids.

You should seek immediate medical advice for sunburn if any of the following symptoms arise:

  • Severe headache, pain or blistering.
  • Confusion.
  • Fainting.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • An acute problem with another medical condition.
So be careful to avoid sunburn, take the necessary steps to prevent sunburn if you have to be in the sun for any length of time and treat any cases of sunburn promptly. Remember that excessive UV radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer.