Sunburned Skin - Prevent It if You Can or Treat It If You Can't!

Just about everyone has had sunburned skin in their life and with the extremely hot temperatures every year now, there will be many more cases. Getting out in the sun can be great but getting too much of a good thing can make your life miserable! I prefer not to EVER get zapped by the sun but admit that sometimes it happens anyway. The trick is to treat the skin as soon as possible - which influences recovery time in a big way!





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During mid day, the sun is highest in the sky so there is always more potential to burn. Everyone needs some sun exposure to help make Vitamin D, but sizzling your skin is never a good idea!

Your skin contains a protective pigment called melanin. When your skin is exposed to the sun, the melanin rises to the surface of the skin and your skin looks tan. The darker your skin tone, the more melanin is present. Fair skinned people are most susceptible to sunburn because their skin produces only small amounts of the melanin needed. However, even the darkest skinned people can get sunburn and even skin cancer.

The long term effects of repeated sunburned skin can cause premature aging and wrinkling. Overexposure can increase your risk of skin cancer, especially from a serious burn in childhood. Those at highest risk for developing cancer are people who have intermittent severe (blistering) sunburns in their youth.

Although sunburn itself is not a serious health condition in the short term, skin cancer from sun overexposure can cause serious problems later on in life. Both UVA and UVB radiation play a role in the development of basal-cell carcinoma, the mildest form of cancer, or squamous cell carcinoma, a very deadly form of skin cancer.

Topically applied sunscreens can help block UV rays as long as the chemical ingredients don't get absorbed into the skin. If applied correctly, sunscreens can prevent sunburn and skin cancer. However, if the sunscreen filter penetrates deeper into the skin, it can get absorbed into the bloodstream and increase the amount of free radicals in your body, which increases the risk for malignant melanoma.

sunburned skin cells under a microscope image

Causes and Symptoms of Sunburned Skin

The ultraviolet rays in sunlight destroy cells in the outer layer of the skin, damaging tiny blood vessels underneath. When the skin is burned, blood vessels dilate and leak. Damaged skin cells stop making certain proteins because their DNA has been damaged by UV rays. Repeated DNA damage can lead to cancer.

When your skin gets sunburned, your immune system identifies the burned skin as ‘foreign’. At the same time, the UV rays transform a substance on the skin that interferes with the immune response. While this keeps the immune system from attacking your own skin, it also means that any malignant (cancerous) cells in the skin are able to grow freely.

Sunburn causes skin to turn red, blister, and eventually peel. Symptoms appear from one to 24 hours after sun exposure and peak several days later. In severe cases, the burn may occur with sunstroke. Symptoms of sunstroke are vomiting, fever, and collapse and may require hospitalization.

Treatment of Sunburned Skin

In most cases, treatment involves making the sunburned skin less painful. Anyone with sunburned skin should get out of the sun and protect tender skin against more sun exposure for at least one week.

  • Pain can and should be treated with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or other anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen.

  • Anyone with moderate sunburn over a large area should drink extra water to avoid dehydration and heat exhaustion.

  • Discomfort may be reduced by using white vinegar compresses or cool tap water compresses, which help pull the heat from the skin.

  • Soothing treatments include colloidal oatmeal baths, aloe vera gel with lidocaine (preferably kept cold in the frig), and unscented water-based moisturizing lotions.

  • A variety of topical herbal remedies can be applied as lotions, poultices, or compresses to help relieve the effects of sunburn. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is one of the most frequently recommended treatments to help reduce inflammation.

    Short term prognosis is excellent. Moderately burned skin should heal within a week, although the skin may eventually peel. While the skin will heal after burning, the risk of skin cancer rises with increased sun exposure and subsequent burns. Even one bad burn in childhood carries an increased risk of cancer.

    sunburned skin image

    Sunburned Skin Prevention

  • A regular white T-shirt offers an SPF 5 protection, which isn’t going to help you a lot. Instead, pick up a few pieces of clothes with UPF protection (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). You can also infuse sun protection into the clothing you already own with a product like SunGuard. Just add a packet to your clothes when you do laundry to reap the benefits.

  • To keep from getting burned, you should also wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Wearing a hat ensures that your face is shielded from the sun and helps protect your skin. Opt for wrap-around stylish sunglasses that protect more area around your precious eyes. These two accessories look fashionable, while helping to prevent wrinkles and aging.

  • To help avoid the absorption of chemicals into your skin, opt for natural sunscreen products and build up to a healthy tan over time. A little bit of sun everyday can help prevent sunburn and skin damage.

  • Consume superfoods that contain plenty of antioxidants in your diet and consider taking astaxanthin or other fat-soluble antioxidants on a regular basis.

    Engage in daily juicing of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are loaded with living nutrients.

    Time your sun exposure in the beginning and work up to a tan so that you don't need sunscreen at all. Contrary to all the misinformation, a healthy tan is actually a good sign that you're getting adequate amounts of vitamin D.

  • There is also some evidence that common foods may offer some protective-ability against sunburn if eaten for a period before sun exposure. Beta-carotene and lycopene, (found in tomatoes and some fruits), increase your skin's ability to resist the effects of UV light. Ketchup and tomato puree contain concentrated amounts of lycopene. Dark chocolates are rich in flavonoids, and can also have a similar effect if eaten for long periods before exposure!

  • If you get sunburned, don’t panic. Start applying aloe vera gel to the sunburn as quickly as possible. Keeping the aloe in the refrigerator is also soothing to the skin and helps draw heat from your skin. Drink plenty of homemade green tea and take 500 mg of vitamin C twice a day to help prevent free radical damage to your cells. You can also take ibuprofen every four hours to reduce discomfort and redness.

    Statistics for Sunburned Skin

    Infants are extremely susceptible to sunburn and should not be exposed to the sun at all. Small children are more easily sunburned than adults, simply because they’re outside playing more. It’s estimated that one-half to three-quarters of a person's total number of lifetime sunburns occur in childhood or adolescence.

    People that live in areas where the climate is mostly sunny year round are at higher risk both for sunburn and skin cancer. Also, those living at high altitudes are at a higher risk. The chance of being sunburned increases about 4 percent for every 1,000 feet (300 meters) rise in altitude. If you are fair skinned, pale, or have freckles, you are at a much greater risk for sunburned skin than anyone with darker skin.

    Most people think about sun protection only in the hot summer months, but even in the dead of winter, your skin can get fried. Keep to a good skin protection routine year round so you don't get sunburned skin in the first place. That way, you can truly enjoy more of your time outside with nature!

    Learn how to make your own natural sunblock here.


    Always consult your physician before using natural remedies, especially for anyone with preexisting conditions or anyone currently taking prescription medications. Although many efforts are made to ensure that the advice given on this site is professionally sound, the advice is not intended to replace a mutual relationship with a medical provider.





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    Which Nail Problems Indicate Health Issues?

    How to Determine Your Skin Type

    Resources

    What is sunburn? A look at what happens to your skin

    Treating and Preventing Sunburn

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