Facts about sunburn
It’s a visible reaction of your skin’s exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation which is part of sunlight. If you have been burnt, the redness typically starts to show between 3-5 hours and peaks at around 12-24 hours after exposure.
Lighter skin people are at increased risk of getting burnt because their skin has less melanin which absorbs harmful UV rays.
Those of you who live close to the Equator, and/or live at high altitudes are also at higher risk of developing sunburn as well as those of you who have lots of moles or freckles.
We’re not the only animals who can get sunburnt. Pigs, walruses and horses can too!
The Ancient Egyptians used rice bran to treat sunburn because it absorbs UV rays so well. It is still used in sun cream formulations today.
If you were an aristocratic woman living in Western Europe during the 16th century, then you wouldn’t go out in the sun without wearing your black, velvet mask. You held it in place with either a bead or button, stitched to the inside of your mask; with your teeth. Well, you wouldn’t want to tan like a peasant, would you!
UV rays can change a tumour-suppressing gene, giving injured cells less chance to repair before progressing to cancer.
Even your ear lobes, scalp, lips and eyes can burn.
Terrifying enough, any more than 5 sunburns can more than double your risk of developing melanoma; a type of skin cancer that can spread to other areas of your body!
Myths about sunburn
“It takes a while to burn.”
No. You can burn within 10 minutes; even in the UK.
“My skin is dark so it won’t burn in the sun.”
Having a darker skin means you have more melanin in your skin but you still need sunscreen when in the sun.
“You don’t get sunburn when it’s overcast.”
Up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate through clouds.
“You only burn in the summer.”
The sun is strong enough to burn you from mid-March to mid-October in the UK, so can you imagine how strong sunlight is in hotter, dryer countries?
How to be safe in the sun.
Obviously, I don’t want to put a downer on you enjoying your time in the sun. To enjoy it safely:-
- Wear sunscreen which is at least SPF 15 and reapply regularly.
- Ideally, cover up by wearing loose clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that have UV protection.
- Spend time in the shade.
Take extra care if you’re pale, have lots of moles or freckles, have a personal or family history of skin cancer.
Tip. When in the sunshine, look at your shadow. If it’s shorter than your height this means the sun’s UV rays are strong.
By enjoying the sun safely, up to 9 out of 10 cases of melanoma could be prevented.
Foods that can give you limited protection from sunburn.
Any food that contains lycopene that absorbs UVA and UVB such as tomatoes, and watermelons. After a few weeks, lycopene could act as a natural sunblock.
There is a study that showed carrots, because of their beta-carotene content, provided natural sun protection after being included in diets for 10 weeks.
Leafy greens like spinach because they contain lutein and zeaxanthin which have been found to protect against wrinkling, sun damage and even skin cancer.
Grinded oatmeal added to your bath.
Drinking lots of water.
Finally, aloe vera. I believe you can have it in a form of tea or more commonly, use it as a gel; as long it’s pure and doesn’t contain alcohol, colours and fragrances.
Warning. These foods are not to be used instead of sunscreen.
Symptoms of sunburn
- Redness of your skin.
- Your skin feels hot to the touch.
- Pain and tenderness.
- Small, fluid-filled blisters. See your doctor if they cover large portions of your body. Don’t scratch or pop them! This action could lead to them getting infected.
- Headaches, fever, nausea and fatigue.
- Your eyes feel painful or gritty.
See your doctor if you develop blisters on your face, hands or genitals. Also, if you have severe swelling, any signs of infections, there are red streaks leading away from open blisters and your symptoms don’t improve after a few days.
Seek emergency care if you or a member of your family have a temperature of over 103°F/39°C, experiencing confusion, fainting or dehydration.
8 proven ways to make sunburn go away faster.
Assuming you’re not confused or feverish, then, to make your sunburn go away faster:-
- Cool your sunburn with cold compresses but don’t apply ice directly to it.
- Take a short, cool shower or bath. A long one could dry out your skin and don’t use a harsh soap.
- Moisturise your skin while it’s still damp but don’t use petroleum or oil-based products because they may trap heat and worsen your burn.
- Keep it moist.
- You could take Ibuprofen or Aspirin to help with the pain and inflammation.
- Drink extra fluids. Sunburn can draw fluids to your skin’s surface so therefore, you’re at risk of dehydration.
- Keep out of the sun for a few days, until it’s better.
- When your sunburn peels, it’s your body trying to get rid of damaged cells. Don’t peel it off!
As some of you already know, I love being outside. As much as I like being in the sun, I get a bit bored with sunbathing for too long.
It doesn’t matter how careful I am applying my sunscreen, the sun always manages to burn that 1/2mm that I’ve missed!!
I don’t want to put a damper on you all enjoying yourselves in the sun but statistically, most of us are at risk of skin cancer. I, myself, have been burnt more than 5 times, have pale skin and recently, my father has been diagnosed with melanoma. So, my days of lying there on a sun lounger, wearing only a bikini, have definitely gone.
So, enjoy yourselves and be safe. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
Have you any sunburn stories to share?
Sources: integrisok.com, berletplasticsurgery.com, columbus direct.com, skincancer.org, mayoclinic.org, cancerresearchuk.org, healthline.com, prevention.com,