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Here Comes the Sun(burn)!

Anyone who has spent a lot of time on the water knows how easy it is to get a bad sunburn. When you are not tanned, and even after you are tanned, spending all day in the sun, and getting in and out of the water, it is almost impossible not to get a sunburn. A good tan can help protect you from burning, because it acts like your skinís own sunscreen. But it cannot protect you from the sunís ultraviolet radiation for a whole day. So, for a day at the lake plan on applying sunscreen before you go out, and reapplying several times throughout the day.

What is Sunburn?
Everyoneís skin has a particular amount of time it can be exposed to the sun without burning. The amount of time it takes your skin to begin to turn pink is called your Minimal
Erythemal Dose (MED). Most people with light skin take about 15 minutes to start turning pink.  When your skin begins to turn pink, the sun has damaged the skin cells, and the capillaries are rushing extra blood to the affected area to help to repair the cellular damage caused by the ultraviolet radiation. The redness is caused by the extra blood in the capillaries. That is why, when you press on sunburned skin, it turns white momentarily, then gets red again.

As anyone who has had sunburns knows, it makes your skin red and is extremely painful. The nerve endings around the injured cells begin sending signals to your brain as damaged cells release chemicals that activate pain receptors. This is why sunburned skin is so sensitive. When the damage to the skin is very severe, the skin forms blisters. But this isnít the worst problem. A bad burn or series of burns can cause serious consequence later in life, such as skin cancer. Long-term overexposure also causes wrinkles, freckles, age spots, dilated blood vessels, and changes in the texture of the skin that make it look older. Using sunscreen or sunblock can help prevent skin damage, and reduce the risk of cancer

How do Sunscreens and Sunblocks Help?
Sunscreens work in different says. Some absorb harmful rays, some reflect them, and some scatter them on the skin. They are available in many forms, including ointments, creams, gels, lotions, sprays, and waxy sticks. All are labeled with Sun Protection Factors, or SPF numbers. The higher the SPF, the greater the protection the sunscreen provides. SPF is a multiplier of the amount of time your skin can be exposed to the sun without burning. So, if you can typically spend 15 minutes without starting to turn pink, and a sunscreen has an SPF of 20, in theory you can spend 15 X 20 minutes (300 minutes) in the sun without burning. In reality, most people donít put on enough sunscreen, and donít keep re-applying it often enough to get that much protection.

The sunís ultraviolet rays are classified into two types, UVA and UVB. Most sunscreens only protect skin from UVB. The SPF rating for a sunscreen only applies to its protection from UVB rays. UVA rays may cause more of the long-term effects of sun damage, such as cancers. Some sunscreens, called "broad-spectrum," reflect both UVA and UVB rays. They do a better job of protecting skin from other effects of the sun including photo damage, photo dermatitis, and sun rashes. Even these sunscreens are not perfect, though. Sun protection should always begin with avoiding peak sun hours and dressing sensibly. I always assumed that putting a t-shirt on would help protect the kids from sunburn. Interestingly, I found out that a typical white t-shirt only provides a SPF of 3. So donít let the kids skip the sunscreen just because they will be wearing a t-shirt!


Sunscreens should be applied about a half an hour before going outdoors. Try to apply it generously and evenly so you wonít miss any areas that will be exposed. It should take about one ounce to cover your skin thoroughly. Putting it on before you go out gives it a chance to bond with your skin before it is exposed. Even water-resistant sunscreens should be reapplied often, at least every 1-1/2 hours, and should also be reapplied after swimming, towel drying, or perspiring. Try to make sure you keep sunscreen out of your eyes, as the many chemicals in them will sting. Sunscreens should be of sun-exposed skin. Donít forget that lips can get sunburned too. Appling a lip balm that contains sunscreen can help protect them. Also, don't forget that some of the worst burns happen when the sky is overcast. Also, you can burn badly in the spring and the fall, even though the sun does not feel as hot as it does in the middle of summer.

Most of the experts seem to agree that there is a direct correlation between sunburns and enhanced risk for melanoma, particularly in the case of severe childhood or adolescent sunburn. Childhood is the most important time to protect the skin, since there is more time for melanoma to develop over your lifetime. This is why it is so important for kids to wear sunscreen. When buying children's sunblock it is critical that the product contain one of the following ingredients, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or avobenzone. So, protect your kids with sunscreen as well as a life vest this summer.

When selecting a sunscreen you can look for the following ingredients on the label:

  • PABA (which can cause skin irritation or allergic reaction)

  • Cinnamates (octylmethyl cinnamate and cinoxate which absorb UVB).

  • Benzophenones (sulisobenzone, avobenzone -Parsol 1789, or oxybenzone, which absorb UVA).

  • Anthranilates (which absorb both UVA and UVB).

  • Salicylates, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide (which absorb UVA). 

Gotta Wear Shades?
There is a new theory regarding the interconnections between your bodyís organs. This theory postulates that by wearing sunglasses, which block the sunís rays, we are fooling our bodies. By making your body believe that is actually dark, your metabolism adjusts as if you are in the dark. As a consequence, your skin is not prepared for any exposure to the sun and you get sunburned more easily. Donít give up the sunscreen with the glasses however Ė your skin canít protect you form the sunís ultraviolet rays for very long.

Dealing with the Burn
If you try to protect yourself, but burn anyway, what should you do? The two most common kinds of sunburn are first-degree burns and second degree burns. First-degree sunburns cause redness and will heal in a few days, though you may peel. These sunburns can be painful and are best treated with cool baths and bland moisturizers or over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams. Aloe may help to soothe the burn, but does not make it heal faster. Aspirin taken orally as soon as possible may help reduce the development of sunburn. 

Second degree sunburns blister. They can be considered a medical emergency if a large area is affected.  If you get a severe burn, which is accompanied by a headache, chills or a fever, make sure you seek medical help as soon as possible. Stay safe and healthy - use the sunscreen!


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