A sunburn is reddening and other damage on the skin caused by exposure to sunlight. The ultraviolet (UV) radiation of the sun is what inflicts the damage. In the short term, a sunburn can cause discomfort, itching, peeling skin and other skin trauma. But in the long term, sunburns can lead to greater health complications, like the chance of developing skin cancer.
Often, the golden tan that the sun can create on some types of people is considered desirable. But the reality is that a tan does damage just like sunburn. Seeking a tan through sun exposure is not recommended. Rather, everyone should be taking steps to protect themselves from sun exposure.
Complications of Sunburn
Sunburns typically cause hot, red skin that is painful to the touch. Over time, the sunburn may itch and peel. A sunburn accompanied by a fever is worth a visit to a doctor, as this may be a sign of heat stroke.
The major risks of sunburn are the long-term complications. Sunburn raises the risk of most forms of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are almost always found on sun-exposed parts of the body, and they are thought to be related to the accumulated effects of sun exposure over many years. And getting five or more sunburns is thought to double the risk of developing melanoma later in life.
Prevention and Treatment
The best way to protect the body against sunburn is to apply sunscreen for any sun exposure. Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin surfaces and reapplied every two hours. It’s also a good idea to wear protective clothing or stay in the shade during the sunniest portions of the day. Children are at a greater risk of sunburn, so sunscreen and protective clothing are especially important for them. And young babies under the age of 6 months should be kept out of the sun entirely.
Sunburns can be treated by drinking plenty of water, using soothing skin moisturizers and taking over-the-counter pain relievers. If the burn is severe, covers a large portion of the body or is accompanied by a fever, seek medical attention.
SOURCES: Skin Cancer Foundation
Tips on how to reduce your risk of skin cancer, the most common cancer in the United States.
Most Americans aren't protecting their skin from the sun's dangerous rays.