Ever had red, inflamed, and painful skin after a day at the beach? If so, then like most Americans, you already know what it feels like to have a sunburn. In many cases, sunburns are mild skin conditions that are more of an annoyance than a real threat. However, intense and repeated sunburns can cause more nasty skin conditions. Knowing what sunburns are and how to deal with them can go a long way toward preserving the health of your skin.
How Sunburns Form
Sunburns are technically radiation burns, unlike other burns that come from exposure to heat. They happen due to prolonged exposure to the sun. The sun emits more than just visible light. It also releases ultraviolet rays, which are more potent than light and are energetic enough to cause chemical reactions in the skin.
In particular, ultraviolet radiation called UVA and UVB causes sunburn damage to the skin. Excess exposure to UVB radiation directly damages DNA, causing skin cells to die. As a response, the body launches protective mechanisms to reduce further skin damage. These mechanisms cause many of the symptoms of sunburns.
A few hours after sunlight exposure, you may feel a hot, burning sensation on the affected areas of the skin. Redness may also be present, and swelling can also occur as the body’s inflammatory response proceeds. Severe cases of sunburn may cause systemic symptoms, such as fever and fatigue.
The pain is most significant after around a day or two after exposure. Blisters may also form. Then, after a few days, the damaged skin may start to peel off as the body attempts to replace the damaged skin. The skin eventually heals fully after a few more days, although it may take more than a week for severely damaged sunburned skin to heal.
Severe sunburns, especially those that happen repeatedly, can accelerate the aging processes of the skin. As a result, the affected skin might start to lose tone and smoothness, similar to how the regular aging process affects the skin. Some of the damage caused by sunburns accumulates over time, causing premature aging.
A more severe consequence of sunburn is skin cancer. The DNA damage caused by UVB radiation sometimes triggers abnormal skin growth by disabling the ability of skin cells to regulate cell division. People who constant sunburns are more likely to get skin cancer in the affected areas.
Treatment and Prevention
Topical medicines such as creams or lotions can be used to reduce pain and inflammation after a sunburn. You can also take oral anti-inflammatory medications in more severe cases. Cold compresses may provide immediate relief and help reduce swelling. Remember to drink enough water to avoid dehydration.
Sunburn prevention involves using sunscreen, which drastically reduces the amount of ultraviolet radiation that reaches the skin. You should also avoid exposure to sunlight at midday when the sun’s radiation is most intense. Finally, wear clothing that covers any exposed skin and protect yourself further with hats and umbrellas.
Getting Skin Care
Sunburns are caused by solar ultraviolet radiation and can cause pain and inflammation for days. However, most cases are self-limiting. Still, repeated sunburns speed up skin aging and can cause cancer, so limiting exposure to UV radiation is a must. Fortunately, many methods exist to protect your skin from excess sunlight.
Getting medical attention is necessary for severe cases. Visits to the doctor are also a good idea to ensure that your skin remains healthy. If you and your child live in Miami, consider a visit to the Children’s Skin Center. We are one of the top dermatology practices in South Florida, and we cater to you and your family’s skin health. Call us at (309) 669-6555 or reserve an appointment using our online form.