Every season comes with its own set of pros and cons for your skin. During the summer, one of the most common skin concerns is sunburn. In fact, in a recent study conducted by The Skin Cancer Foundation and iVillage, 42% of those surveyed get sunburn at least once per year. At Dermatology Associates of Atlanta (DAA), many of our patients have believed that sunburns aren’t a big deal because they’re so common, but unfortunately, this isn’t the case. To set the record straight and give you the knowledge you need to protect yourself from sunburns, we’ve compiled the facts that everyone needs to know about sunburns.
Causes – Along with the light you can see, the sun’s rays also include light you can’t see, called ultraviolet (UV) radiation. These UV rays damage your skin and cause the redness and pain of sunburn. This same UV radiation can, over time, cause the development of skin cancer and other conditions.
Who’s at Risk – Everyone is at risk for sunburn. Some people do have an elevated risk, such as children, those with fair skin and/or lightly-colored eyes, and those with previous skin injuries. Some medications can also increase your sensitivity to UV rays. However, everyone should take precautions to protect their skin from the sun.
Prevention – Sun protection is a necessity every day – not just when you’re planning to spend the day outside. Use broad-spectrum (protecting against UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, applying half an hour before going outside and re-applying every few hours. For optimal protection, cover up with tightly-woven fabrics, UV-blocking sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat, and try to avoid the sun’s peak hours of 10am-4pm.
Risks – Sunburn itself is uncomfortable, but it can also increase your risk for a variety of other conditions. The most notable is skin cancer. Melanoma is the most severe type of skin cancer, and the risk for melanoma doubles for patients who have had five or more sunburns in their lifetime, or for patients who have had just one blistering (severe) sunburn. Blistering can also put you at risk for an infection, and any sunburn (or even sun exposure that doesn’t result in a burn) can accelerate the skin’s aging process.
At-Home Treatments – For a mild sunburn, you can take several steps at home to minimize the discomfort. Try over-the-counter pain relievers, cold compresses, and aloe-based moisturizing lotions. However, avoid topical anesthetics that haven’t been prescribed, and avoid additional sun exposure until the burn has healed. If the skin blisters, do not break the blisters, as this increases the risk for infection.
Medical Treatments – If you have severe sunburn, you should seek medical attention and schedule an appointment at DAA. One of our experienced providers may prescribe topical or oral medications to help your skin heal, avoid infections, and reduce the swelling and discomfort.
Repairing the Damage – While sunburn and other sun damage to your skin cannot be reversed, there are ways to minimize the accelerated signs of aging that have appeared as a result of the sun exposure. Some treatments, like Fraxel® Laser Treatments and DOT Therapy™, help your body produce collagen to smooth wrinkles and firm the skin while also addressing age spots. Chemical peels and microdermabrasion, on the other hand, removed damaged outer skin to reveal younger-looking skin beneath. Cosmetic facial injections like Botox® or Juvéderm® can also improve the look of wrinkles, and we also offer specialized topical solutions as well.
While sunburn may be common and dangerous, it is also very preventable. Follow the prevention steps above, and always be prepared for sun exposure by having sunscreen available. We also recommend a professional skin cancer screening every year to identify and treat any signs of more serious sun damage. Contact us to schedule your skin cancer check today, and, to stay up-to-date on the latest dermatology news, join DAA on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.