A sunburn is more than a summer rite of passage. It’s your body sending a clear message that serious sun damage has occurred. Although blistering sunburns are one of the leading causes of melanoma, the deadliest of any form of skin cancer, sunburns are not the only cause. Even without a sunburn, your skin is being damaged by the sun daily. Cloudy skies, winter months, windows, and sunscreen that has not been reapplied within 90 minutes are no protection from dangerous ultraviolet rays.
Protecting your skin from sun damage does more than keep you safe from painful sunburns. These best practices can save your life.
The sun has two main types of ultraviolet rays. UVA is long wave, while UVB is short wave. UVA has the power to deeply penetrate the skin, causing damage that might not be seen for years (if ever). UVB rays cause immediate damage, often presenting as a sunburn. These rays affect the top layers of skin, but also leads to lingering sun damage.
Sunburns are a sign of immediate sun damage. Just 10 minutes of UV exposure forces the body to start defending itself. This results in an inflammatory response, or distress signal, as the blood vessels dilate. This redness causes a lack of hydration, leading to skin tightening. As the skin thickens, melanin is created. Both sun tans and sunburns are your body’s way of protecting itself.
Peeling is one of the most annoying and obvious signs of a sunburn. It is the body’s way of getting rid of damaged cells. New skin is revealed as the body heals. Keep in mind that even with proper sun protection, damage can occur. This damage is usually invisible for many years and can include:
Preventing sunburns is your best course of action to avoid skin cancer, premature aging, and other signs of sun damage. Since skin can burn in just three minutes, it is important to remain vigilant. Use an SPF of at least 30 daily, and SPF 50 on days when you will be regularly exposed to UV rays. Make sure the sunscreen is high-quality, the ingredients are not hazardous, and that it has not expired. The best sunscreens, such as EltaMD, are available from your dermatologist.
There are various types of sunscreen. However, sunscreen is NOT sunblock. There is no way to fully block the sun’s rays besides avoiding them entirely.
Water-resistant: There is no such thing as a waterproof sunscreen. However, some sunscreens are water-resistant. They still need to be applied regularly. If you will be spending the day swimming or in the water, reapply every 20 minutes.
SPF: The sun protection factor of a sunscreen tells you its strength. It can range from 15 to over 50. The higher the SPF, the more protection it offers.
Broad-spectrum: Only a broad-spectrum sunscreen is effective against both UVA and UVB rays. Always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Most people get sunburns at some point, no matter how careful they are. In most cases, sunburns will heal on their own and can be a good reminder to be extra-vigilant with sun protection. If you suspect a sunburn:
If you have a sunburn, struggle with sun damaged skin, or want to learn more ways to protect yourself from sunburns, connect with Spectrum Dermatology. Call (480) 948-8400 to schedule an appointment at one of our four Phoenix and Scottsdale locations.