Nearly all people have experienced sunburn at some point in the not so distant past. Perhaps you fell victim to an overcast day, or simply forgot to apply and reapply (…and reapply again) sunscreen during an outdoor activity. It’s important to understand what a sunburn is, how skin damage isn’t limited to sunburn, how to prevent sunburn, and what to do if you have a sunburn. It could save your life.
The sunlight that reaches us is made up of two types of rays – long wave ultraviolet A (UVA) and short wave ultraviolet B (UVB). UVA rays penetrate deeply into the skin, down into the deepest layer, causing unseen damage. UVB rays are the rays that cause what we know as a sunburn, and usually, burn the superficial layers of your skin.
A sunburn is the skin’s response to severe UV exposure and indicates serious damage – not only to the burn area but also into the deeper skin. This is why you want protection from both UVA and UVB rays. In fact, in as little as 10 minutes of ultraviolet exposure, the skin puts up a wall of defense to mitigate further harm. How does this work? Well, the first sign your body is fighting sunburn is the inflammatory response in situations of distress and is a result of dilating blood vessels. The redness you see will then be followed by a loss of hydration and overall moisture, as well as skin tightness. The skin starts to thicken, melanin is produced, and the body puts up a fight to stop the ultraviolet light from penetrating deeper into the skin.
Peeling is a direct result of the sunburn itself as a way to shed the damaged skin cells. The new skin is then allowed to regenerate as the burn heals itself. It’s also important to recognize that even with proper care and lots of sun protection, damage may have occurred in other forms only to be revealed later in life. Other types of damage to the skin include:
It’s important to remember that your skin can burn in as little as three to ten minutes. Additionally, you can also get a sunburn on overcast days. Even if you put on sunscreen routinely, there is always an area of the body that has potential to get burned. The best you can do is be vigilant about understanding sunscreen labeling and making sure you follow the recommendations by a board certified dermatologist.
Virtually every dermatologist will recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and 50 or higher if you’re going to spend most of the day in the sun. You can rest assured that the FDA has regulations on what can be called sunscreen. Specifically, the labels instruct you on what you are buying. Know what sunscreen labeling means:
Sunscreen: Sun protection products are called sunscreens, NOT sunblock. No product can block the sun’s harmful rays.
Water-resistance: Remember that no sunscreens are waterproof, so that word has been changed to “water-resistant.” To be effective, a water-resistant sunscreen needs to be applied every 40 – 80 minutes. In times of extreme water exposure, never go longer than 15-20 minutes before reapplying.
Expirations. All sunscreens can expire. Make sure you check the date and use accordingly.
SPF: Also known as Sun Protection Factor, SPF measures the “strength” of the sunscreen. The SPF factor ranges from a small 15 to a big 50. In fact, any formula that is over SPF 50 is symbolized as 50+SPF. The higher the SPF, the greater the percentage of the sun’s rays that are blocked. Please remember, no SPF can block 100%.
Broad-Spectrum: This protects you against both UVA and UVB rays. The UVB (ultraviolet B) rays cause burning, and the UVA rays can cause skin cancer. Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both.
Not all sunburns quickly heal on your own. In fact, some sunburns are actually rashes from allergies and infections. There are many things you can do if you are experiencing sunburn.
Spectrum Dermatology provides expertise, knowledge, and passion to medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology. Our experience and reputation make Spectrum Dermatology one of the most sought-after dermatologists in the Scottsdale and Phoenix area. For more information or to set up an appointment please contact us at (480) 948-8400.