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Do you have red, swollen and painful skin every time you remain outdoors in the scorching summer for very long? This is called a sunburn. Your skin type and exposure to the harmful UV rays of the sun are major contributing factors to a sunburn. Let’s discuss all the various ways to prevent and treat it.

What Kind Of UV Exposure Contributes To Sunburn?

Long hours under the sun can result in sunburns. However, it also depends on the time at which your skin is exposed to the sun. The mid-day sun (10 am - 2 pm) is the strongest and can burn your skin. People usually tend to notice a sunburn 12-24 hours after their skin has been directly exposed to the sun.

UVB rays are known to be responsible for direct DNA damage. When your body is directly exposed to UV rays, it reacts in response to the formation of particular molecules in the skin that contribute to DNA damage (1). This ‘DNA repair response’ is what results in red, inflamed skin that we call a sunburn.

Word Of Caution:

Soothing a sunburn is easy. However, prolonged exposure can also increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

Symptoms Of A Sunburn

The severity of your sunburn usually depends on the time of sun exposure. Minor sunburns only result in red skin, which is sometimes tender to the touch. Major sunburns can have serious consequences. These include:

  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Low blood pressure

Although your skin starts getting affected within 15 minutes of exposure, redness usually takes about half an hour to appear. This may be followed by pain, that develops 6-48 hours after the burn appears. You may also notice peeling skin after a few days.

How To Treat A Sunburn?

Always remember that prevention is better than cure. Although a sunburn can be treated easily, it may have its consequences, including an increased risk of skin cancer. Here are some treatment options:

1. OTC Pain Relief Medicines

Several over-the-counter medicines are available to reduce pain and swelling.

2. Drink Lots Of Water

Water is required to rehydrate your skin and keep it cool.

3. Pat And Moisturize

After you bathe, gently dab a towel on the affected area, leaving your skin slightly damp. Apply moisturizer to the sunburn to soothe dryness. Moisturizing is important to keep your skin hydrated and moist. It also cools down your skin.

4. Oral Medication

Aspirin or ibuprofen can be taken to soothe the affected area and relieve it of swelling and redness as well. [2]

5. Stay Away From The Sun For A While

For a few days post your sunburn, stay away from the sun. You don’t need more UV light in your system after that big, red patch of skin! You may also worsen the sunburn if you stay out in the sun for too long.

6. Stay Covered When You’re Out In The Day

If you step-out, wear clothes that cover your sunburned skin. Make sure the clothes you wear don’t allow the sun’s rays to penetrate through them. [3]

How To Prevent/Avoid Sunburn?

  • Whether you are out on a family picnic or just happen to enjoy traveling, make it a point to grab a hat along with you.
  • Remember to slip, slop, slap, seek and slide. If that wasn’t self-explanatory, then slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat whenever you’re being exposed to the sun. Apart from that, seek shade whenever you can and slide on your sunglasses whenever you’re stepping out.
  • If you’re outdoors, try sitting in places with enough shade.
  • Wear sunscreen every time you step-out in the day and re-apply every two hours.
  • Avoid going under the sun during the hotter hours of the day (usually between 10 am - 2 pm in India).
  • Carry a pair of sunglasses.

How Much Damage Can A Really Bad Sunburn Do? Can One Sunburn Cause Skin Cancer?

Let the sunburn be for now. Even normal, day-to-day exposure to UV rays can damage your skin cells. This may also increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

Early exposure is usually the culprit of the development of skin cancer later in life. One study published by the American Academy of Dermatology stated that women who experience 4-5 bad sunburns when they are between 15-20 years old are at a higher risk of developing melanoma skin cancer.

One bad sunburn can increase your risk of developing skin cancer later on in your lifetime.

Will Your Sunburn Eventually Turn Into A Tan?

Let’s get this straight - both, sunburns and tans are bad for your skin. They indicate DNA damage.

Your sunburn will not turn into a tan. It will fade away on its own or with treatment. However, you may notice a tan post your sunburn. This is because UVB rays are responsible for both sunburns and tans. Yet, it is not your sunburn that decided to change into the brown, pigmented glow you were looking for.

Why Does This Happen?

Delayed pigment darkening is responsible for this activity. This process usually starts 2-3 days post the development of a sunburn. When your body is exposed to the sun, it produces excess melanin (the same pigment responsible for the color of your skin). This is done in order to protect your skin from UV damage. This is why you may notice this change in skin color, post the healing of your sunburn.

What Happens To Your Skin When You Get A Sunburn?

UV rays can damage your DNA. However, your body has various ways of fighting this. Sometimes, when your skin is exposed to very strong rays that it cannot handle, the cells in your skin may die off. This is when your blood vessels send in their immune cells to tackle the situation, causing redness and inflammation. This is what we refer to as a sunburn.

The Right Sunscreen For You

The sunscreen you choose must depend on your skin type. If you have oily, acne-prone skin, sunblocks are a better option for you as they avoid clogged pores. They sit on the top of your skin and prevent UV rays from penetrating through it.

If you don’t have acne-prone skin, you can wear chemical sunscreens. These seep through the layers of your skin and absorb UV rays, preventing sun damage. Apply your sunscreen 20-30 minutes before stepping out in the sun. This will help your skin achieve best protection.

Pro Tip:

Always go for the broad-spectrum sunscreens as they protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays of the sun. Most sunscreens block-out only UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deep through the layers of the skin, increasing the risk of skin cancer.

When Should You Visit Your Doctor?

Mild sunburns can usually be treated at home. However, visit your doctor if you experience serious symptoms like nausea and fever.

Remember that prevention is better than cure. So try to avoid stepping out during the peak hours (10 am-2 pm) and you should be fine. Also let us know if our list of treatments helped you.

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