Sunburn is a burn to the skin after overexposure of ultraviolet radiation. Symptoms can include, redness, pain, itching, peeling skin, rash, nausea, fever, and syncope. In severe cases, blistering can appear. Extreme sunburns can be extremely painful and may possibly require hospital care.
If you were born before the 1980s, you probably remember the old coppertone billboards. A cute little kid and a feisty little dog making it clear that a “healthy tan” and a nice “copper tone” were the goals of the summer sun season. No self respecting kid wanted to let their mom smear a gob of white, pasty zinc oxide on his nose. We didn’t even call it sunscreen in those days, we called it “suntan lotion”, and your sister might have even smeared on baby oil to amplify the suns effects.
It turns out that George Hamilton was wrong, and your mom was right.
Here are some things to keep in mind regarding sunburns:
- There is no such thing as a “healthy tan.” Unprotected sun exposure causes premature aging of the skin.
- Sun exposure can cause first and second degree burns.
- Skin cancer usually appears in adulthood, but is caused by sun exposure and sunburns that began as early as childhood.
- You can help prevent skin cancer by protecting your skin and your children’s skin from the harmful rays of the sun.
The first step to treating your sunburn is to avoid any exposure to the sun while in the healing process. The best treatment for sunburn is time since most burns heal within a couple of weeks. However, there are medical treatments such as aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), moisturizers, and compresses.
Another interesting thing to note about sunburn is that is happens on more than just your skin, but also your eyes and lips. The eyes are very sensitive and need UV protection which can be provided in sunglasses. UV light can also cause pterygium and cataracts. The lips can be burned and blistered if overexposed to the sun. The best prevention is to apply a lip balm, such as petroleum jelly, that has an SPF.
So what is Ultraviolet Radiation (UV) anyways?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is that section of the electromagnetic spectrum between x rays and visible light, i.e., between 40 and 400 nm. The UV spectrum is divided into five classifications.
- Vacuum UV (40-190 nm)
- Far UV (190-220 nm)
- UVC (220-290 nm)
- UVB (290-320)
- UVA (320-400 nm).
The sun is our main natural source of UV radiation. Manmade sources include tanning booths,mercury vapor and halogen lamps,fluorescent and incandescent lighting, black lights, germicidal lamps,and certain lasers. Depending on the wavelength range of the emitted UV radiation, each source caries its own unique risks..
The atmosphere absorbs almost all Vacuum UV, Far UV and UVC so they are almost never observed in nature. The most common sunburn risks are the result of UVB. It has enough energy to cause damage to cellular DNA, yet not enough to be completely absorbed by the atmosphere. Individuals working outdoors are at the greatest risk of UVB effects. Most solar UVB is blocked the atmosphere, but that absorption varies by time of day, season, weather and other environmental factors.
The best defenses against sunburn are moderating your time in the sun and using proper SPF rated sunscreens and sunblocks to protect your skin when you are exposed.