How We Burn
Tans and sunburns develop when your UV exposure exceeds the skin's ability to absorb UV rays. As exposure continues, production of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin coloration, increases. Contrary to old beliefs, a tan isn't a sign of health. Instead, a tan indicates skin damage.
Sunscreens and Sunblocks
Both types of UV rays, UVA and UVB, are harmful to your skin. Prolonged exposure to UVA rays leads to age spots, skin cancers, and wrinkles as it penetrates the skin. Cataracts, immune system damage, and sunburns are the result of UVB rays. It's thought melanoma, a rare but invasive skin cancer, is the result of severe sunburns that occur before age 20.
To protect your skin and self from UV rays, it's strongly recommended to use sunscreens and sunblocks before any sun exposure. Sunscreens absorb UV rays before they're able to reach the skin while sunblocks block the rays before absorption occurs. Use sunscreens with benzophenones, cinnamates, PABA, and/or salicylates as active ingredients. Titanium oxide and zinc oxide are active ingredients in effective sunblocks.
Yet, no sunscreen or sunblock has a 100 percent success rate. The sun protection factor (SPF) listed on sunscreens indicates how much sun exposure a person can have, on average, before burning. SPF 30 is the minimum sunscreen to use, though its use isn't recommended for children under six months old. Infants and children should avoid sun exposure as much as possible and wear protective clothing to prevent skin damage.
Though many sunscreens and sunblocks are marketed as such, "all-day" and "waterproof," varieties don't exist. Sunscreens need to be reapplied every two hours to three hours regardless of the SPF rating. Waterproof sunscreens can only protect your skin up to 80 minutes in the water. Water resistant sunscreen provides protection for 40 minutes. Sunscreen needs to be used every day no matter the climate or weather. Eighty percent of UV rays pass through clouds on stormy days. Sand reflects 25 percent of UV rays while snow cover reflects 80 percent. Plus, the higher the altitude, the higher the intensity of the sun's rays.
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Protecting Yourself From Sun Exposure
There are many steps you can take to protect yourself from sun exposure and skin damage. When choosing sunscreens, select products that are broad spectrum as they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Other steps include:
- Applying sunscreens liberally and use at least one ounce to cover your entire body;
- Avoiding tanning beds;
- Protecting your lips by applying a lip balm with SPF 15 or greater;
- Staying in the shade whenever possible; and
- Wearing sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats to protect the eyes.
Treating a Sunburn
Sunburns begin to appear four hours to six hours after sun exposure with the full burn developing within 24 hours. Mild burns feature redness and some peeling a day or two afterward. Cold compresses, cool baths, moisturizers, and over-the-counter hydrocortisone are common treatments. Remember to drink plenty of water and fluids after a sunburn. This helps rehydrate the skin and aids in the healing process.
Blisters will develop after a serious sunburn. Try not to rupture the blisters as it can interfere with healing and possibly lead to a skin infection. It's also important to avoid sun exposure until the sunburn has fully healed. In severe cases, your dermatologist may prescribe oral steroids to prevent infection along with pain management medications.