The sun is the center of our universe and, for many families, at the center of summer fun. With a record-setting snowfall and bitterly cold temperatures this past winter, it’s no surprise so many flock outdoors to take full advantage of hot, steamy, sunny days. But fun under the summer sun can quickly turn into medical misery without taking a few precautions.
Every summer 70% of children and 30% of adults experience a sunburn so severe, it causes pain, even blisters in some cases, and significantly increases lifetime risk for skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States.
Everyone has heard it before – sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. Sunburn can begin with as little as 15 minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen, especially in those with fair and light skin. But do you know when to apply and reapply?
- Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes prior to going outside. This time is especially needed for chemical-based suncreens to penetrate the skin and provide full protection.
- Apply without your swimsuit on to ensure full-body coverage and to avoid becoming “crispy” around the edges of your swimsuit. Be sure to apply to tops of the ears and feet, which are the two most overlooked and often-burned body parts.
- Cover up! Hats and clothing with SPF protection can also greatly reduce the risk for sunburn.
- Reapply throughout the day, especially after swimming or sweating. Reapply to dry skin, or use a product specially formulated for use on wet skin.
The full extent of a sunburn may not be immediately seen. Sunburn redness takes 12-24 hours to peak, even longer – 72 hours (that’s three days!) or more – for the burn to begin to fade. Sunburn is inflammation and increased temperature of the skin, reducing both can increase your comfort.
- Cool compresses or baths
- Take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) medication like ibuprofen. Take as directed. (Do not take if you have been told by your doctor not to call. Consult your physician for alternative anti-inflammatory medication.)
- Topical aloe vera-based gels or sprays can soothe burned skin. It’s recommended to use pure aloe vera, or read the ingredient label to avoid alcohol, which is drying to the skin.
- Topical pain relievers such as Solarcaine may help. Be sure to read the label for appropriate use.
- Drink water and other non-caffeinated beverages to stay hydrated.
Do homemade remedies work?
- A popular homemade remedy that doesn’t work is vinegar compresses. Vinegar is an acid. Do you really want to put acid on a burn? Probably not. Vinegar is also drying to the skin, which can increase the discomfort of a sunburn.
- Old-fashioned Noxzema cream can help. It’s active ingredients aids in reducing skin temperature. Use by applying a thin layer to the burned areas. Let sit on skin and then rinse with cool water or low-pressure shower.
If you experience blisters with your sunburn, treat the blisters just as you would a blister from other causes.
- Don’t pop the blisters. Letting them heal on their own is best.
- If the blister does pop, keep the flap of skin intact and clean the area with soap and water. Apply an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin or Polysporin, and apply a loose sterile gauze over the area, if possible. Keep the area clean and dry, and change the gauze at least once a day.
- If the area becomes infected, seek medical attention. Signs of infection include increased pain, swelling, redness, or warmth around the blister, red streaks extending away from the blister, and drainage of pus. In more advanced infections, swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpit, or groin, and fever can occur. It is especially important to see a doctor if you have swollen lymph nodes and/or fever.
Heat Exhaustion and Heart Stroke
Those with severe sunburn can also have heat stroke or heat exhaustion (when your body temperature is extremely high), which can cause fever, headache, confusion, nausea, vomiting, blurry vision, and fainting. If you have any of these problems, you should go to the emergency department immediately.
With a little planning, you’ll be sure to enjoy more summer with less burn!
Dr. Mohammed Arsiwala