This year summer officially begins on June 20, but most of us have already been spending more time outdoors. The American Academy of Dermatology reminds us to protect against the damaging effects of sun exposure.
“Whether you’re at the beach, going for a jog, or playing a round of golf, it’s important to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays,” said board-certified dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth S. Martin. “Although sunburn may seem like a temporary condition, it leaves behind long-lasting damage to the skin that increases a person’s risk for getting skin cancer.”
Dr. Martin offers tips for preventing sunburn:
- Seek shade, especially during the hours when the sun’s rays are strongest—between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. if you’re in an area with Daylight Savings Time. Here’s a good test: If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, head for cover.
- Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen that has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more. Apply to all exposed skin areas, and reapply every two hours or after swimming, even on cloudy days.
- Monitor your skin during outdoor activities, remembering that the first signs of sunburn can take two to three hours to appear.
Prevention is the best strategy, but if you do get a sunburn, Dr. Martin recommends the following tips:
- Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. As soon as you get out of the bathtub or shower, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Then, apply a moisturizer to help trap the water in your skin. This can help ease the dryness.
- Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe sunburned skin. If a particular area feels especially uncomfortable, you may want to apply a hydrocortisone cream that you can buy without a prescription. Do not treat sunburn with “-caine” products (such as benzocaine), as these may irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
- Consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, redness and discomfort.
- Drink extra water. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water when you are sunburned helps prevent dehydration.
- If your skin blisters, allow the blisters to heal. Blistering skin means you have a second-degree sunburn. You should not pop the blisters, as blisters form to help your skin heal and protect you from infection.
- Take extra care to protect sunburned skin while it heals. Wear clothing that covers your skin when you’re outdoors. Tightly-woven fabrics work best. When you hold the fabric up to a bright light, you shouldn’t see any light coming through.
Dr. Martin says, “If you get sunburned and you have blisters that cover a large area, such as your entire back, or if you have chills, a headache or a fever, seek medical care immediately.”