When you spend too much time in the sun, you may develop a sunburn, intense reddening and swelling of the skin. More specifically, sunburns occur because of overexposure to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation that is emitted from the sun. Tanning beds and lamps can also produce the same results.
Ultraviolet rays, either UVA or UVB, are what cause your sunburn. When you’re exposed to UV light, your skin produces more melanin, the dark pigment that gives your skin its normal color. Extra melanin will give a “tan” appearance as it tries to block the UV rays. Because people produce different levels of melanin, not everyone makes enough to protect their skin. Certain skin types, for example those with pale, fair skin, may be more likely to develop sunburns than others will. Even on cloudy days you can still burn. Sun reflecting off snow, ice, sand and water can lead to damage as well.
Usually signs of a sunburn appear within a few hours of excessive sun exposure. It may take several days for you to see the full impact of the sunburn. Symptoms may include:
- Areas that feel warm to the touch
- Headache and/or fatigue with large sunburns
- Pink or red skin
Although treatment will not repair damage to skin, it can alleviate pain. Cool baths, over-the-counter pain medications, aloe vera lotions and moisturizers will help relieve discomfort. For more severe sunburns, your physician may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroid medications to speed up healing and reduce swelling.
Making smart decisions about time in the sun can help stop most sunburns, so remember to:
- Choose clothes that cover your skin
- Regularly and freely apply sunscreen
- Select a sunscreen of at least SPF 30
- Stay inside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Use sunglasses when outdoors