Summer’s red devil: Sunburn

Tips and tricks for handling the sun’s sting

Posted 5/17/19

A lot of Americans this year will likely face serious problems with their skin.

According to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General in 2014, nearly five million people in the United States are …

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Summer’s red devil: Sunburn

Tips and tricks for handling the sun’s sting

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A lot of Americans this year will likely face serious problems with their skin.

According to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General in 2014, nearly five million people in the United States are treated for various forms of skin cancer at cost of $8.1 billion each year. Melanoma, one of the major forms, leads to nearly 9,000 deaths a year and is one of the most common types of cancer among adolescents and young adults.

As much as 90 percent of the melanoma diagnoses are estimated to be caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, most commonly absorbed by humans from the sun. The summer is a hot time for the sun, and as a result, thousands and millions of Americans will get sunburn on their trips to the beach, the golf course or the park.

“UV exposure, whether from the sun or from tanning devices, is the No. 1 cause of skin cancer,” says Shannon Kincaide Godbout, social research associate with the Chatham County Public Health Department. “It is also important to note that anyone can get skin cancer, so everyone should make an effort to protect their skin from the sun.”

To help prepare you for the summer, here’s some information about summer’s red devil and how to prevent it and deal with it, provided by The Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Dermatology and the Chatham County Public Health Department.

What is sunburn?

Sunburn is “red, painful skin that feels hot to the touch,” according to the Mayo Clinic. It usually begins to appear a few hours after “too much exposure to ultraviolet light from sunshine or artificial sources, such as sunlamps.” Most instances of sunburn simply remain on the skin level and can be treated by home remedies — more on that later.

But there are some occasions of sunburn that can cause blistering, wrinkled skin, high fever, extreme pain, headache, confusion, nausea or chills. It can also cause infections, evidenced by increasing pain and tenderness, increasing swelling, yellow drainage from an open blister and red streaks leading away from an open blister. If any of those things happen, seek medical care.

How does sunburn occur?

When there is “too much” exposure to UV lights. What we see as suntan is really the body accelerating the production of melanin, the chemical which gives our skin its color, to prevent sunburn.

But according to the Mayo Clinic, “the amount of melanin you produce is determined genetically. Many people simply don’t produce enough melanin to protect the skin well.”

Sunburn can occur during just about any weather. As much as 80 percent of UV rays can pass through clouds, and rays can reflect off of snow, sand, water and other surfaces.

Certain individuals can be more prone to sunburn. Factors include having light skin, blue eyes and red or blond hair; working outdoors; mixing outdoor recreation and drinking alcohol, regularly exposing yourself unprotected to UV light; or living or vacationing somewhere sunny, warm or at high altitude.

Will sunscreen help me?

Yes. The American Academy of Dermatology says that “everyone” needs sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection, SPF [sun protection factor] 30 or higher and is water-resistant.

The AAD adds that most people apply just 25-50 percent of the recommended amount. Most adults need about an ounce, the size of an average shot glass, to fully cover their body. The organization also advises applying a lip balm or lipstick with SPF 30 or higher sunscreen to prevent skin cancer on the lips, and applying suncreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors.

What kind of sunscreen should I use?

Dermatologists recommend a suncreen at least SPF 30, which blocks 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, the type that cause sunburn. Higher-number SPFs block more, but no sunscreen blocks all the rays.

The AAD stresses that high-number SPF sunblocks last the same amount of time as lower-number ones. Sunscreens should be re-applied every two hours when outside, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating, depending on the substance’s water-resistance.

How do I prevent sunburn?

“Skin damage can occur in as little as 15 minutes of sun exposure,” Godbout says, “so it is very important to take measures to protect your skin from the sun.”

Using and reapplying sunscreen is vital, she said, along with wearing sunglasses, a hat and long clothing that covers your skin, as well as seeking shade as often as possible.

How do I heal sunburn?

As previously stated, most cases of sunburn can be healed with various home remedies. Godbout said to start with avoiding additional sun exposure. Take cool showers and use moisturizer to help heal the pain, along with drinking plenty of water and wearing loose clothing.

The AAD says applying moisturizer right after a shower or bath, with a little water left on the skin, can help ease discomfort that comes from dryness. Asprin or ibuprofen can reduce swelling, redness and discomfort. Sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from other parts of your body, so drinking more water than normal can help prevent dehydration.

Zachary Horner can be reached at or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.


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