While warmer weather means more outdoor activities, it also means carefully protecting your skin from the sun. 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.
“Whether you’re at the beach, going for a jog, or playing a round of golf, it’s important to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays,” said board-certified dermatologist Elizabeth S. Martin, MD, FAAD, who maintains a private practice in Hoover, Alabama. “Although sunburn may seem like a temporary condition, it leaves behind long-lasting damage to the skin that increases a person’s risk for getting skin cancer.”
To help prevent sunburn and decrease the risk of skin cancer, Dr. Martin 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.
“Unfortunately, the first signs of sunburn can take two to three hours to appear, making it especially important to carefully monitor your skin during outdoor activities,” said Dr. Martin. “If you get sunburned and you have blisters that cover a large area, such as your entire back, or if you have chills, a headache, or a fever, seek medical care immediately.”
For more information about how to prevent skin cancer, visit the Academy’s SpotSkinCancer.org. There, you can learn how to perform a skin self-exam, download a body mole map for tracking changes in your skin, and find free skin cancer screenings in your area. SPOT Skin Cancer™ is the American Academy of Dermatology’s campaign to create a world without skin cancer through public awareness, community outreach programs and services, and advocacy that promote the prevention, detection, and care of skin cancer.