First aid treatment for
minor sunburn causing mild discomfort is similar to treatment for other minor burns such as from open flames, stove or steam.
Treat serious sunburn as an injury. Nausea, vomiting and shock may indicate serious problems. Heat stroke and severe burns are medical emergencies.
Sunburn has long-term effects beyond just a few days of itching and blistered or painful red skin. It can contribute to skin damage – wrinkling, loss of elasticity, and blotchy patches. Worst of all, it is a major factor in the creation of cancerous cells in our skin. Research proves prolonged exposure to the sun and frequent sunburns lead to skin cancers developing later in life. Overexposure to the sun can also damage other sensitive tissues, including important parts of the eyes. Sun damage to skin and eyes is also known as solar injury.
It’s easy. Seek the shade, cover-up and use sunscreens.
There are two types of rays from the sun, ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVA and UVB stimulate pigment (melanin) production in the skin to help protect deeper skin layers. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause or contribute to skin cancer. UVA is the main cause of skin aging by sun, while UVB are the burning rays. Sunscreens absorb the sun's rays and protect skin from damaging UVB rays. Better sunscreens block most of the UVA too.
The protection offered by a sunscreen is measured by its sun protection factor (SPF). This system shows how long you can stay in the sun before burning. The higher the SPF number on the package, the more sun protection your skin receives. For example, if you would burn in 10 minutes without protection, by applying a sunscreen with an SPF 15 you will burn in 150 minutes (10 minutes x SPF 15 + 150). Additional applications will not extend this time. For this reason, seeking shade and covering up as much as possible is a wise choice.
Alternatively, sunblocks can provide a physical barrier to the sun – think of the white swatch on a skier's nose. These products were once thick, greasy and heavy. New agents are cosmetically elegant and great for high-risk areas like the nose, lips, ears, shoulders and backs of hands.
Apply a sunscreen with a minimum Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 at least 20 minutes before going into the sun so the product has a chance to bind to the skin. To ensure proper sun protection, use 25-30 mL to cover the entire body. Reapply the sunscreen or sunblock of your choice liberally and often, especially if you will be getting wet waterskiing, swimming outdoors, or sweating a lot. Water-resistant and waterproof versions are available.
Have you ever had a cold sore after exposure to the sun? If so, the sun’s rays activated the dormant herpes simplex labialis virus. If you are susceptible to cold sores, you will need strong protection from the sun with special attention paid to your lips. Though sunblock is best, you might also choose a lip balm or lipstick with at least SPF of 15.
As mentioned before, choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of no less than 15. If you have had reactions to some chemicals or drugs in the past, you may be irritated by some sunscreens.
Ask your family doctor or pharmacist about possible interactions.
Although everyone is vulnerable to solar injury, the very young are even more so. In children, skin is thinner and more sensitive. Kids love to be outside, but pay attention to where your child is playing. Snow, sand, water and even concrete reflect solar radiation and increase the risk of burns. Snow skiing, waterskiing, sailing and fishing are all activities that carry a high risk of sunburn. Bad sunburns can happen even during passive activities like lying on the beach, building sandcastles or sleeping in a pram on a deck. Dress young children to protect their skin from the sun and use sunscreens. Infants should be protected from the sun altogether. Sunscreens are not recommended for infants. Instead, shield your baby from the sun’s rays.
Keep in mind that even if you are protected from the sun's rays, you may be losing fluids, especially if working or exercising outside. Dehydration is easy to avoid. Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercising or working in the sun. Water is best.
Before: Drink a few cups (8 oz-250 mL) two hours before you plan to go out, and another cup or two 10-15 minutes before going outside.
During: Take in one-third to one-half cup every 15-20 minutes during sustained exercise or work in the sun.
After: Drink a cup or two of fluid for every kilogram of weight lost.
Thirst is not a good indicator. It usually means the body is already low on fluids, so plan to take in water before you feel thirsty.
Enjoy a safe and fun summer – seek the shade, cover up, use sunscreens and top up your fluids regularly.
Time in the sun
|1 hour||2 hours||3 hours||4 hours||5 hours|
|Very fair/extremely sensitive
Never tans, always burns
|SPF 30||SPF 30||SPF 30||SPF 45||SPF 45|
Tans slowly, burns easily
|SPF 15||SPF 30||SPF 30||SPF 30||SPF 45|
usually burns first
|SPF 15||SPF 15||SPF 15||SPF 30||SPF 30|
Tans well, burns minimally
|SPF 15||SPF 15||SPF 15||SPF 15||SPF 30|
Tans easily, rarely burns
|SPF 15||SPF 15||SPF 15||SPF 15||SPF 15|