What is sunburn?
A sunburn is skin damage from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most sunburns cause mild pain and redness but affect only the outer layer of skin (first degree burns). The red skin might hurt when you touch it. These sunburns are mild and can usually be treated at home.
Skin that is red and painful and that swells up and blisters may mean deep skin layers and nerve endings have been damaged (second degree burn). This type of sunburn is usually more painful and takes longer to heal.
What other problems can occur with a sunburn?
- Heatstroke or other heat-related illnesses from too much sun exposure
- Allergic reactions to sun exposure or to sunscreen products
- Vision problems, such as burning, pain, decreased vision, or partial or complete vision loss
- An increased chance of developing skin cancer
- An increase in other health problems, such as lupus or cold sores
- Cataracts, from direct, intense sun exposure over many years; cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness
- Skin changes, such as premature wrinkling or brown spots
Who is at risk for sunburn?
People with fair or freckled skin, blond or red hair, and blue eyes usually sunburn easily. Your age also affects how your skin reacts to the sun. The skin of children younger than 6 and adults older than 60 is more sensitive to sunlight.
What other factors increase the chance for sunburn?
- The time of day - You are more likely to get a sunburn between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, when the sun's rays are the strongest. You might think the chance of getting a sunburn on cloudy days is less, but the sun's damaging UV light can pass through clouds.
- Reflective surfaces - If you are near reflective surfaces, such as water, white sand, concrete, snow, and ice, all of these reflect the sun's rays and can cause sunburns.
- The season of the year - The position of the sun on summer days can cause a more severe sunburn.
- Altitude - It is easy to get sunburned at higher altitudes because there is less of the earth's atmosphere to block the sunlight. UV exposure increases about 4% for every 1000 ft gain in elevation.
How can you prevent a sunburn?
Preventive measures and home treatment are usually all that is needed to prevent or treat a sunburn. The following measures are all important in the prevention of sunburn:
- Protect your skin from the sun
- Do not stay in the sun for too long
- Use sunscreen and wear clothing that covers your skin
- If you have any health risks that may increase the seriousness of sun exposure, you should avoid the sun from 10 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon