4 Types of Sunburns

4 Types of Sunburns | Spectrum Dermatology, Scottsdale

4 Types of Sunburns

There are varying degrees of sunburns, and all are caused when your skin receives too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Spectrum Dermatology offers the best medical-grade products to prevent sunburns and also treats the results of sunburns—whether it’s skin cancer, early signs of aging, or both. A sunburn may require both a medical and cosmetic treatment, but the great news is that sunburns are 100 percent preventable.

The National Health Interview Survey found that 37.5 percent of adults have self-reported a sunburn in the last year. The most common sunburn is the least harmful, at least superficially. A first-degree sunburn makes skin turn red, dry, and it’s often painful to touch. These sunburns seem to heal in 3 – 6 days, but the damage they cause might not show up until years later. Even a first-degree burn can be a catalyst for skin cancer, since all types of sun damage are cumulative.

Serious Sunburns

A second-degree sunburn is sometimes called a superficial partial-thickness burn. It impacts the two top layers of the skin and there is pain when touching it or with fast temperature shifts. Blistering may occur with these burns, and they seem to heal in 7 – 21 days. Scarring is possible with these burns, and once “healed” the skin might be lighter or darker in color.

A third-degree sunburn is a deep partial-thickness burn. It will certainly have blisters and scarring is more likely, especially if it has not healed in 21 days. Finally, there’s the fourth-degree sunburn. This full-thickness burn affects all skin layers and may even impact fat and muscle. Skin turns a different color entirely (usually white, gray, or black), and hospitalization and/or surgery is usually required.

When Sunburns Don’t Heal

When we talk about sunburns healing, we really mean is that the immediate visible damage has healed. In reality, UV damage adds up over time. Most people have lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, skin laxity, and other signs of aging due not just to the passing years but also sun damage. A sunburn isn’t going to give you an immediate wrinkle, but numerous studies have shown that early aging is a very common side effect of sun damage. Consider the studies that show how long-haul truck drivers have much more severe signs of aging on the left side of their face (which is constantly exposed to the sun) than their right.

However, the more serious lingering effect of a sunburn is the increased risk of skin cancer. While it is true that a person who has a history of 5+ serious sunburns in their life has an increased risk of skin cancer, that’s just one part of the equation. All sunburns, including first-degree sunburns, increase your risk of skin cancer. In fact, exposure to any kind of UV damage (even if it doesn’t cause a burn) increases these risks. Clearly, it is worthwhile to prioritize skin protection for a number of reasons.

Protecting Your Skin from Sunburns, Skin Cancer, and Early Aging

You have many tools and strategies at your disposal for keeping your skin safe from UV damage. One of the most obvious approaches is to avoid the sun during its peak damaging hours (typically between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.). This isn’t always possible, but if you choose to go running during your lunch break (for example), you may want to shift your run to the early morning or evening.

If you must be out in the sunlight, regardless of the time of day, dress for it! A wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and clothes that cover you up can all be helpful. Seek out shade if you dine outside. Be aware of when, where, and how UV rays reach you. For instance, it’s easy to forget that you’re vulnerable when you’re sitting by a window or on your commute. Glass is not an effective tool for sun protection.

Is Your Sunscreen Up to the Task?

Sunscreens and sun blocks come in all different types. The most effective sunscreen is at least 35 SPF, broadband, and applied in the proper manner. Sunscreen should be applied ideally 30 minutes before you’re exposed to UV rays and should be reapplied every 75 minutes. Studies have shown most people avoid sunscreen on the eyelids and around the eyes, but this is an especially vulnerable area. It’s also common to have a light touch when applying sunscreen.

For more tips on sun protection, or to schedule your mole check or relief from a sunburn, contact Spectrum Dermatology today. You can call our office or get in touch via the online booking system.