Summer can be fun but, when it comes to skin care, there is such a thing as too much fun in the sun. It only takes a few hours in the sun for unprotected skin to become damaged. Within hours, sunburn can appear. That red, painful skin, which is hot to the touch, can take several days to fade but the damage could be lasting. Intense sun exposure that causes sunburn can increase the risk of related skin diseases like dry, wrinkled skin, liver spots and skin cancer like melanoma.
Sunburn happens when the skin is exposed to too much ultraviolet light. I remind my patients the importance of protecting the skin, even year-round because reflective sun rays off snow, ice and sand can be as harmful as direct sunlight. And there is no sunburn relief on cloudy days either as UV rays can penetrate cloud cover.
Here are ways to protect from the sun’s damaging rays:
- Avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you are outdoors, limit time outside and seek shade when possible.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater and apply it frequently and liberally. Too often, people just wipe it on. I say get a good coat on and be sure to cover areas like ears, tops of feet and even the top of your head where there may be less hair. Be sure to reapply every two hours or more, especially if you are swimming or perspiring.
- Cover up exposed skin with tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs and a wide-brimmed hat. Beware that a baseball cap or visor does not provide as much protection as a wide-brimmed hat. There is also clothing on the market specially designed to provide sun protection. Wear sunglasses that protect from UV rays and consider wrap around frames to provide more coverage.
You can reduce sunburn pain and discomfort by taking anti-inflammatory medicine; applying cold compresses; and applying moisturizing cream, aloe vera lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Do not break blisters that form as that could increase the risk of infection. Peeling skin follows as the skin begins to heal. It is a normal way for the body to get rid of that top layer of damaged skin. Continue to use moisturizing lotion when skin is peeling.
By Russ Butkiewicz, MD, ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca