Why You Should Avoid Sunburn

Severe Sunburn SymptomsWe know that sun damaged skin results from an overexposure to ultraviolet (UVB) rays and that, depending on the type of skin pigment someone has, and that the amount of sun exposure involved determines the extent of the burn. The skin becomes red, swollen, and painful one hour to one day after exposure.  Later, if bad enough, blisters form and the skin peels.  People who are severely sunburned may develop fever, chills, and weakness and some may experience low blood pressure, fainting, and profound weakness.

Is a Suntan Healthy?

In one word NO – although certain societies project a suntan as a symbol of good health and an active, free lifestyle, tanning for its own sake is really a health hazard, even the slightest amount of UVB light can actually damage or change the skin.  Exposure, over the long-term, to natural sunlight or the artificial sun light in tanning booths may cause serious and even long-term sun damaged skin.  In summary, there is no safe tan.

Most particularly, exposure before the age of 18 can do the most damage and fair-skinned people are the most at risk, however, with enough exposure anyone’s skin can change and be damaged. The character and amount of UV light varies according to the season, weather, and geographic location because of the way light spreads through the atmosphere at different times of the day.  In temperate zones, exposure is less harmful before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m.   The higher altitudes present the potential for greater damage because the protective atmosphere is thinner.

Facts About Sunburn

It’s important to know scientific research is conclusive that the amount of UV light reaching the Earth’s surface is increasing, particularly north of the equator. The reason is that the chemical reactions between the ozone and chlorofluorocarbons are depleting the protective ozone layer that creates thinner atmosphere with some holes actually developing.

Also, water is not a good UV filter. Both UVA (less harmful) and UVB (most harmful) rays can penetrate at least 1 foot of clear water. Clouds and fog also do not provide UV filtering and, in the wrong position, snow, water, or sand may actually reflect sunlight, magnifying the amount of UV light reaching the skin.

Typically, the “burn” in a sunburn situation takes time to actually show itself. Some people, however, may have severe sunburn symptoms after only moments of exposure to the sun. The reactions could be bright redness, hives, blisters, and thick scaly patches.  A person with these types of reactions are said to have sun sensitivity.  Sun sensitivity can come from a number of different factors such as use of certain drugs, soaps, perfumes, and disease.  The most common cause of sun sensitivity is the use of particular classes of drugs – most particularly, antibiotics, diuretics, and anti-fungal agents.  The actual medical term for sun sensitive is photosensitivity.  The second leading cause of photosensitivity is the use of soaps or perfumes, actually anything on the skin that includes a scent.  It is the chemicals in the actual scent that set the epidermis (outer layer of the skin) up for photosensitivity.  Products used to treat dandruff, which contain coal tars actually make the scalp highly sensitive to the sun’s UV rays. Diseases such as Lupus are commonly understood to also have the entire body set-up for extreme photosensitivity.

As a rule of safety, whenever the first tingling or redness appears, it is a signal to immediately get out of the sun. Medical references site the application of cold water compresses as the first line of defense to these areas of exposure.  Corticosteroid tablets can help relieve the inflammation and pain quickly.  The skin itself starts the healing process within a few days but complete healing often takes weeks.  It is thought that lower leg sunburn, particularly sunburned shins, is the most uncomfortable and slowest to heal.  Obviously, surfaces that get little to no sun exposure, can get burned the worst and the quickest because they contain little pigment.  If you have sun damaged skin due to sunburn, the skin is susceptible to infection as burned skin makes a poor barrier to penetrating or topical infections.  If an infection develops, it can be slow to heal or even dangerous.  In the healing process, the burned skin actually peels, leaving the newly exposed layer extremely thin and initially very sensitive to sunlight. This condition may last for weeks or even months.

How To Avoid Sunburn

Before any exposure to strong direct sunlight, a person should always apply sunscreen ointment or cream containing chemicals that protect the skin by filtering out both UVA and UVB rays.  It is important if exercise or swimming are involved because a waterproof or water resistant cream only should be used.  The most common type of sunscreen contains para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA).  When using PABA-based screens, it takes 30-45 minutes to bind the ingredients to the pores of the skin so swimming or sweating should be avoided so as not to render the sunscreen useless.  As previously discussed, sunscreens are rated by their sun protection factor (SPF) – the higher the SPF, the greater the protection from the sun’s rays.  Lotions with an SPF of 15 or more block most UV rays. MOST SUNSCSREENS TEND TO BLOCK ONLY UVB RAYS, which typically cause the most damage, however, it is now becoming more understood that UVA rays cause sun damaged skin as well and particularly in light of the thinning of the ozone layer.


Ultimately, to avoid severe sunburn symptoms, the wearing of protective clothes and avoiding the sunlight as much as possible is recommended. A careful review of prescription drugs or substances applied to the skin such as drugs or cosmetics, should be undertaken to predict possible skin photosensitivity.

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