May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. We know it is important to protect our skin from the sun. Even so, many of us have experienced sunburn and its red, hot pain. The sun can be dangerous if the proper precautions aren’t taken.
Cell damage with sunburn can lead to severe health issues over time, like skin cancer (melanoma). Researchers estimate that 1 in 50 men and women will be diagnosed with melanoma of the skin during their lifetime.1 Severe sunburn alone can be serious in the short term too and may require medical attention
We spoke with Dr. David Herec of Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare for some tips on how to have a fun, relaxing, safe summer.
Q: Who is most susceptible to sunburn?
Everyone is susceptible, but people with fair skin or where the sun reflects off water or snow are more likely to get a burn. Some medications or supplements, such as antibiotics, birth control pills, and Accutane cause sensitivity to sun and increase the likelihood of sunburn.
Q: What is most important for sunburn prevention?
Remember, it does not have to be sunny for damaging ultra-violet (UV) rays to reach us—many sunburns occur on cloudy days. Always wear broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or even more frequently if you are swimming or perspiring. Stay out of the sun when its rays are strongest, between 10 am and 4 pm. When out, try to wear a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves and seek shade often. Eyes need protection too—look for sunglasses that block 99-100% of UV rays.2
Q: What should I do if I get a burn?
Keep skin cool and moist. Apply a cool, dampened towel to skin or take a cool bath to relieve pain. Apply moisturizing cream or aloe. Avoid products that contain alcohol, which can dry skin.
Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Advil or Motrin, relieve pain, swelling, and inflammation and can be especially helpful when taken within 24 hours of exposure.
Hands off! If you do get a blister or two, resist the urge to pop them—that increases your risk of infection. Also remember that peeling is your body’s way of removing damaged skin. Just continue applying moisturizer and let nature do its work.
Q: What are the signs I need medical treatment for sunburn?
If your burn blisters cover a large portion of your body or are accompanied by a high fever, extreme pain, headache, confusion, nausea or chills, see your doctor. If at-home care does not help within a few days, you should seek medical help. Increasing pain and swelling, yellow drainage or red streaks from a blister could all be signs of infection—definitely reason to consult a physician.