As the days grow longer and the temperature rises, I tend to find myself wanting to go outside more. As a PNW native, once I see my weather app on my phone say “sunny” I try to plan more outdoor activities. However, with the direct sun, our skins become the victims to the harsh UV rays. The warmth of the sun might feel good for a bit, but sun exposure can lead to short and/or long-term effects.
What is sunburn?
I’m sure we have all experienced sunburn at least once in our lives. Sunburn is our body’s reaction to ultraviolet (UV) radiation that damages your skin’s outer most layer. There are two basic types of UV rays: UVB and UVA. UVB rays cause sunburn while UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, playing a role in skin cancer and wrinkle formation. You don’t get sunburnt from only sunny days. You can get burned on an overcast day because UV rays can penetrate through clouds. UV ray index measures the strength of ultraviolet rays which you can often find on the weather app on your phone. This is a good tool to determine the amount of protection you need.
||Minutes to burn
|0 – 2
||Sunscreen + UV sunglasses
|2 – 4
||Sunscreen + UV sunglasses
|4 – 6
||Sunscreen + UV sunglasses + hat
|6 – 10
||Sunscreen + UV sunglasses + hat + umbrella
|10 – 15
||Sunscreen + UV sunglasses + hat + umbrella + avoid midday sun.
Sunburns affect all people that are exposed to the sun for a long period of time. Some people are more prone than others, depending on skin type. People with fair skin have the greatest risk. It is also easier for someone who has had multiple sunburns to continue getting them as skin damage builds over time. This is not only for sunburns, but you are at greater risk of more serious consequences such as skin cancer.
Like most problems and diseases, prevention is the best medicine. The most important concept to remember when you go outside is to keep your skin protected and to stop burns before it’s too late.
Use and understand your sunscreen.
- Always wear sunscreen! There are many different types of sunscreens on the market right now and they are all for various exposure times or activities. SPF stands for sun protective factor and the number tells you how well it can protect you from the UV rays. For example, SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB, SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 98%. The SPF usually ranges from 15-50 and if you are someone who burns easily, pick up the bottle that has a SPF of greater than 30
- How to apply sunscreen
- Apply 15 – 30 minutes before going out.
- Apply at least every 2 hours and every time you get out of the water.
- Always read the directions behind the bottle on how to use. Application direction might be different on each sunscreen bottles
Try to avoid direct sun
- Peak sun exposure is between 10 am – 2 pm. Try staying inside during those times and plan your outdoor activities after the sun starts to set.
- Cover exposed skin with a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeved shirt, and long pants.
Darker colored clothing absorb heat more than lighter colored clothing, which may feel uncomfortable when the weather is warmer, but provides greater sunburn protection. Sunglasses provide 100% protection which can reduce your risk of eye damage such as cataracts.
Know which medications may cause sun sensitivity
- Some antibiotics, birth control pills, retinoids, and others might cause sun sensitivity. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if the medication you’re taking can increase your chances of sun burn.
Signs of a mild sunburn
Most mild sunburns are on the surface of your skin. You may experience redness, swelling, pain, itchiness, followed by peeling, but should be resolved within 3-8 days. If you are experiencing these symptoms, here are some ways to help relieve some of the discomfort.
- Treat the pain and heat
- Take a cool (not cold) bath, or gently apply a cool, wet compress to the skin.
- Take a pain reliver such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
- Add moisture right back to your skin and help with any swelling by adding a topical moisturizing cream or aloe vera. Aloe vera has cooling properties that can act as a symptomatic relief.
- Drink plenty of water – Sunburns tend to draw fluids from your skin and body. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
- Stay away from the sun
- Your skin is healing. Make sure to stay in the shade until your skin has healed.
Signs of severe sunburn
Severe sunburn causes damage deeper than the surface of the skin. Immediate medical care is recommended if you have any of the symptoms listed.
- Burns of blisters over a large area
- Fevers or chills
- Severe pain
- Dehydration with rapid pulse and heavy breathing.
What are possible long-term complications with sunburn
- Skin changes
- Early aging
- Lower immune system
- Eye injury
- Skin cancer
Whether we are gardening, going to the beach, or walking around outside, we need to be more cautious of the damage that sun has on our skin. Don’t let a sunburn stop you from enjoying the nice weather! Next time you’re at the grocery store, make sure to pick up a bottle of sunscreen!
Prepared by Deborah Choi PharmD Candidate 2023
- “Sun Damage: Protecting Yourself.” Cleveland Clinic, 10 Oct. 2019, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/5240-sun-damage-protecting-yourself. Accessed 20 May 2022.
- “Sunburn.” Cedars Sinai. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/s/sunburn.html. Accessed 20 May 2022.
- “How To Treat Sunburn.” American Academy of Dermatology Association. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/injured-skin/burns/treat-sunburn. Accessed 20 May 2022.
- “The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – Sun Exposure.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/sunexposure/default.html. Accessed 20 May 2022.
- “What is the difference between UVA and UVB rays?” University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics, April. 2019, https://uihc.org/health-topics/what-difference-between-uva-and-uvb-rays. Accessed 20 June 2022.