With Memorial Day behind us and summer just ahead of us, let’s talk about the sun and your skin. More specifically, let’s talk about sunburns. What is a sunburn? What happens when your skin burns? How do you treat it? And how can you prevent it?
First, what is a sunburn?
A sunburn is what happens to the skin when it has been exposed to too much UV rays, and leaves the skin red, hot, and sometimes swollen or blistered. While most sunburns occur during summer months when the sun is hottest, it is possible to get them in the colder months, too, because it is not the heat of the sun that burns the skin. It is the excess of UV rays, meaning it’s a radiation burn.
Those with fair skin are at the most risk. Those whose skin is darker and creates more melanin are naturally more protected. But don’t let that fool you. Darker skin types can still get burned. Remember, it’s not the heat, it’s radiation that is burning the skin. Everyone is at risk.
So, what happens to the skin when it gets burned?
In a nutshell, the radiation mutates the DNA. According to mdanderson.org, the redness, swelling, and inflammation of a sunburn are the body’s natural defense mechanisms to help repair the damage. The sunburns will then heal, likely causing peeling of the topmost layers of skin. In some less serious cases, or in the case of some darker skin tones, the peeling may be minimal or undetected and turn into a tan. But again, there is still damage that has been done underneath.
The ultraviolet rays that are the cause of all the damage come in two types: UV-A and UV-B. The former are the ones responsible for skin aging (A=aging). These are what cause sagging skin and that aged leather look. UV-B, on the other hand, can cause more problems more immediately (B=bad).
Fun fact: your cells come with a kill switch, a self-destruct, if you will. Under normal circumstances, if a cell becomes damaged or can’t function the way it’s supposed to, it will self-destruct. It’s the checks and balances of the body to remain functioning optimally. During a sunburn, if a cell’s kill switch is damaged, or the damaged cell somehow is missed during the repair process, this is where things get hairy. The cell can then grow and reproduce very quickly. This is how cancer begins.
Ok, I got burned. What do I do now?
Assess. If it’s not too bad, some after sun lotion and cool compresses are in order. A cool shower may also be warranted. DO NOT use any kind of heat. Trapping the heat in the body will only damage the skin further. Seek medical assistance if the burn shows signs of infection, causes severe swelling, if blisters develop on the face, hands, or genitals, or if blisters cover a large portion of the body. Seek emergency medical assistance if you experience a fever over 103, confusion, fainting, or dehydration.
Also, if you have any personal appointments, it’s time to reschedule. Do you don’t want hot wax on burned skin. Not only is that terribly uncomfortable it can cause other problems such as worsening the burn and pulling skin off your body or face. This goes for facials, massage, and any other treatments you have planned. We can cause so much more damage than good in these instances, even with just a minor burn. Furthermore, if we were to touch you and you had a bad reaction, our liability insurance won’t cover us. It may suck, but it’s better to call and reschedule than have to be told to go home after you’ve come in. It’s in the best interest of all involved.
Once you get to the peeling stage of healing, DO NOT pick at it. It’s itchy, flaky, looks terrible, and you jut don’t want it there. Tough. Don’t pick. If you pick off peeling skin that isn’t fully ready to release itself, you can cause scarring of the tissue trying to heal underneath. Just leave it. It will be gone soon enough.
How can I prevent getting burned?
I’m so glad you asked. It’s really very easy.
Avoid the sun at its peak times, typically between 10am and 4pm. These times are when the rays are strongest and most likely to do the most damage.
When you do go out, cover up. Anywhere that is exposed can be burned including scalp, ears, lips, and yes, even your eyes. Wear hats, clothes with tightly woven fabrics or those with an SPF rating, and sunglasses with broad spectrum UV protection.
WEAR SUNSCREEN/SUNBLOCK. Choose something with at least a 30 SPF and don’t forget to reapply often, more if you’re swimming or sweating.
Don’t let all this information scare you away from enjoying the season. Summer is a wonderful time of relaxation, gardening, swimming, and all other outdoor activities. Don’t forget, some amount of sun exposure is really good for us. It helps us create Vitamin D which is essential for absorbing calcium. Its also great for producing serotonin. Just be aware of how much exposure you’re getting while you’re out having fun this summer.