Sunburn occurs when skin is exposed to excessive ultraviolet light from the sun or indoor tanning sources.
What Causes Sunburn
Intense exposure to the sun allows ultraviolet rays to penetrate the skin. This triggers a chemical response that irritates the tiny blood vessels in the dermis (middle layer of skin) causing pain and redness. The same ultraviolet B, or UVB, rays also lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.
To protects itself from sunburn, the skin produces melanin. Individuals with more melanin have darker skin that is more likely to tan than burn. Freckles and age spots also develop in response to sun exposure. Even though the skin does not appear burned, these conditions are signs of skin damage.
Severity of Sunburn
Sunburn that involves the outer layer of skin, or epidermis, is referred to as a first degree or superficial burn. This type of burn produces pain and redness and sky appears dry.
Second degree or partial thickness sunburn involves the entire epidermis and extends into the top layers of the dermis. In addition to pain and redness, the skin is warm to touch and may appear blotchy or swollen and blisters may develop.
If a large area of skin is involved or the sunburn is severe, sunburn victims may experience headache, fever and chills.
In 2 to 3 days, peeling begins and the skin starts to heal.
Call your dermatologist if:
- Skin is blistered
- A large area of skin is involved
- Fever, nausea, chills or confusion is noted
- Pain or swelling worsens
- Open blisters develop yellow drainage
If sunburn is mild, ibuprofen or other over-the-counter pain medication may be helpful. Cool compresses and moisturizer may also offer relief. In adults and children over age 2, a non-prescription strength hydrocortisone cream or benzocaine product can assist with pain control and healing.
Replace lost fluids by increasing your water intake and avoid popping blisters, since this increases the risk of infection.
For severe sunburns talk with your dermatologist about whether or not prescription pain relievers and corticosteroids would be beneficial.
To prevent sunburn, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF or 15 or higher anytime you are outdoors and reapply every 2 hours and after swimming or heavy sweating. Remember to apply even on cloudy or hazy days.
Stay indoors or avoid the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wear sun protective clothing and wide-brimmed hat and never use indoor tanning sources.
Protecting your skin from harmful UV rays is the best way to avoid sunburn and sun damage.