The sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays—specifically UVA and UVB rays—are to blame for sunburn. Never leave the house without applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Check the label to make sure it blocks both UVA and UVB rays. The ultraviolet (UV) radiation that comes from the sun causes early aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to skin cancer. They also can cause allergic skin reactions, and eye problems. In addition, these powerful rays can even lower your body’s defenses against infections and other medical problems. UV radiation can penetrate light clothing, windshields, and windows. Avoid the midday sun from mid-morning to late afternoon whenever possible and remember, sunscreen alone cannot replace avoiding the sun and wearing clothing to protect the skin.
Skin cancer, the most common form of cancer, affects one in five Americans. More than one million new cases are diagnosed each year. Although most skin cancers are curable if detected and treated early, one person dies every hour from melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. Sun exposure is the most preventable risk for melanoma.
Most sunburns are considered first- or second-degree burns. First-degree sunburns are pink in color and typically don’t blister, while second-degree burns usually range from pink to bright red and may blister. Most of the time, you can treat sunburns—even the painful ones—at home. This includes first-degree and minor second-degree sunburns.
To temporarily relieve pain and reduce swelling:
• Run cool water over the sunburned area for 10 minutes or take a cold bath. Cool, wet compresses also can be applied to the sunburned area as often as needed. However, don’t use ice on a burn.
• Soothe pain and itching with over-the-counter products that contain: dyclonine, pramoxine, benzyl alcohol, or menthol. Sprays can be a good choice because they are less painful to apply.
• Take a nonprescription pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or aspirin, if you can tolerate it. In fact, taking aspirin or other nonprescription pain relievers, such as Ibuprofen, before it hurts may help reduce the sunburn reaction.
• If pain isn’t a problem, but your skin feels dry, gently rub cocoa butter, glycerin, or petroleum jelly on the burn. You can do this as often as needed.
Call your doctor if your sunburn worsens or does not improve within a week. Also, you should see your doctor if your symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, and an upset stomach.
This information is provided by Antoinette Notaro, MD, a diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology, on the Medical Staff at Eastern Long Island Hospital. Dr. Notaro, listed as one of the top doctors in New York by Castle Connelly, has a private practice located in Mattituck.