Preventing and Managing Sunburn
Here comes the sun, doo-doo doo-doo! And with it, come all the reminders and guidance from yours truly for best ways to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of UV rays this summer. Although sunlight is vital for vitamin D production, which helps with calcium absorption and mood, prolonged, unprotected exposure can harm the skin, eyes, and immune system, contribute to cancer development, and cause premature aging.
First Off, What Is Sunburn?
A common misconception suggests that sunburn is related to or (worse!) conducive to getting a tan. It’s easy to see why – when our skin is exposed to UV radiation, the outer layer, called the epidermis, becomes inflamed and red. This is the body’s natural response to injury: to send blood flow to the affected area to begin the healing process. The body also produces melanin, a pigment that gives the skin its color, in an attempt to protect the skin from further damage. Seeing the skin become darker could lead some folks to think they’re just getting a tan, which is not necessarily the case.
What is actually happening is that the skin gets burnt – this is a real thermal injury and should be treated as such. Symptoms of sunburn may include the skin feeling hot or tender to the touch; later on, peeling, itching, and dryness may occur. Blisters may form in severe cases.
There are multiple things you can do to protect yourself and your family from sunburn:
- Apply sunscreen to infants 6 months or older with a minimum SPF of 30 15-20 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating. Infants younger than six months should be kept out of direct sunlight as much as possible: their skin is just too delicate and sensitive to tolerate much of any of the sun’s rays.
- Dress in protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and hats with brims to protect the face, neck, and ears.
- Limit sun exposure during peak hours, typically from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pay attention to weather forecasts for information on heightened UV ray indexes.
- Seek shade whenever possible and avoid using tanning beds.
- Talk to your kids about the dangers of UV rays and help them develop self-care habits of sunscreen use and self-awareness when it comes to exposure.
Depending on the severity of the sunburn, healing and treatment can last for a number of days. During this time, it’s important to keep the skin cool and moisturized to help the process along. After getting out of the sun, the affected area should be cooled down with a cold compress or by taking a cool bath or shower. In fact, baths and showers are a great way to continue relieving the discomfort of sunburn all throughout the healing process. Gently pat the skin dry and apply moisturizer with aloe vera or vaseline to help soothe the inflammation. Extra hydration is also important for recovery, so make sure to drink plenty of water.
Because sunburnt skin is more sensitive than normal, be careful to not disturb it further as it heals. Watch out for scented lotion containing alcohol and sunburn products ending in “-caine” (such as benzocaine), as these substances can irritate the injured areas. If peeling or blisters do occur, it’s especially important to resist touching or picking at the exposed skin, as this can cause infection and even scarring. Blisters are an indication of second-degree sunburn, and they form to help skin heal faster – do not pop or disturb them.
Finally, remember that sunburn is a real injury and can be very painful. Taking acetaminophen can help manage discomfort, as well as reduce swelling and inflammation. If you notice that your sunburnt child is also experiencing fever or chills, it is a good idea to consult with a medical professional as this could be a sign of more serious complications.