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LincolnHealth – St. Andrews Campus - Summer in Maine
Summer in Maine

Shelter your skin from the sun

Now that summer is upon us, most of us are finding ways to spend more time outside. We've probably all dug out those summer clothes, attended a barbecue and had our share of insect bites. As we spend more and more time in the sun, many of us are at risk for getting a sunburn. It is important to take care of your skin and avoid sunburning not only because it is uncomfortable and painful, but also because sunburned skin is more likely to develop dangerous skin cancers. In this article we will discuss what a sunburn is, why it's bad for you, how to avoid sunburning, and what to do if you have been burned.

What exactly is a sunburn?

Why are suntans and sunburns bad for me?
How do I avoid sunburns?
What should I do if I do get burned?

What exactly is a sunburn?

As your skin is exposed to the sun, its rays cause many different reactions. The UV (ultraviolet) "A" rays cause the skin's pigment to turn brown (a tan). This tan is your body's response to protect itself from the sun by increasing the amount of a chemical called melanin in the skin. Besides causing a tan, the UVA rays also contribute to the early aging and wrinkling of your skin. A sunburn is mostly caused by UVB rays, although the UVA rays contribute as well. Several hours after exposure to sunlight the skin has a response to too much of these UV rays and turns red, painful and swollen. A sunburn is not much different from a burn you may get from touching a hot stove, but is usually much larger. If the burn is bad enough blisters may develop, often associated with chills, fever, or nausea. This is considered a "first degree burn". The redness usually fades after several days to be followed by skin peeling.

Why are suntans and sunburns bad for me?

We are all led to believe that a tan is healthy, but in fact sun exposure causes quicker aging, thickening, and wrinkling of skin. Besides making you look older earlier, the more sun exposure you have the more likely you are to develop some form of skin cancer. People who are more likely to develop skin cancer are those who sunburn easily, who have had peeling and blistering sunburns in the past, who are fair skinned, blond or have red hair, and blue eyes. It is also thought that those people who have lots of moles and have a family history of skin cancer are more likely to develop skin cancer. There are three big groups of skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma. Although squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma are rarely fatal, melanoma kills 7,000 people a year.

Many skin cancers start out as simple changes in skin because of too much exposure to sun. Actinic keratoses are flat or raised, dry, scaly areas most likely found on the face, neck back or arms. These are not cancerous, but are caused by too much sun exposure, and can develop into squamous cell carcinoma. Moles are very common, in fact almost all of us have a few, but these too are more likely to develop on sun exposed skin and may develop into the deadly form of skin cancer (melanoma).

How do I avoid sunburning?

The best way to avoid burning is to limit your exposure to sunlight. Here are some suggestions:

  • Avoid direct sunlight from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm
  • Wear loose fitting clothes, hat with a brim, and shoes when outside be especially cautious when around water and sand - the radiation exposure is increased two fold
  • Use sunscreen 15-30 minutes prior to going outdoors-and use A LOT of it
  • Use sunscreen with at least an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 - this will allow you to be out in the sun longer without burning
  • Keep children covered with clothes and use sunscreen often
  • Get in the habit of using sunscreen daily on sunexposed areas-especially hands, neck and face to avoid burns and over exposure (even in the winter)
What should I do if I get burned?

If by some chance you do get burned this summer, there is no way to undo the damage, but there are a few ways to deal with the pain. Traditionally, lotions with aloe are useful as well as anti-inflammatory medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol ) or ibuprofen (Advil , Motrin) to help relieve the pain. Cold compresses or calamine lotion can ease itchiness and a cool bath or shower can make you feel a lot better. It is also important to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Some homeopathic remedies include lotions containing calendula (Calendula officinalis) which help reduce the swelling, and those containing echinacea (Echinacea sp.) to help prevent infection of newly exposed skin just after peeling or blistering. Severe burns should be seen by a doctor.

Health Information

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