Sunburn on the skin is the result of exposure to too much ultraviolet (UV) light, whether it is directly from the sun or through artificial sources such as sunlamps. UV light can cause sunburn even when the sun is not falling directly. Up to 80 percent of UV rays can pass through clouds, and surfaces such as snow, sand and water reflect UV, leading to a similar level of exposure as that provided by direct sunlight.
The body protects itself from harmful UV radiation by accelerating the production of melanin, the dark pigment that gives skin its color. Unfortunately, melanin can only protect the body from a certain amount of UV light. If someone is continuously exposed to UV radiation, it will eventually lead to skin burns marked by discoloration and blisters, and might cause the person to experience headache and fever.
Besides superficial skin damage, sunburns also increase the risk of skin cancers such as melanoma. Melanoma is one of the more common and one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer. Avoiding sunburn is recognized as the best way of preventing melanoma as a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if they have five or more cases of sunburn.
To protect the skin from UV exposure apply the right sunscreen lotions, don a wide-brimmed hat and UV protected sunglasses when venturing out into the sun. Also make sure you are wearing clothing made from tightly-woven fabrics. A plain white t-shirt offers a sun protection factor of around 7, falling to around 3 if it gets wet. In general, the easiest way to test if a fabric can protect your skin is to hold it up to the light - if you can see through it, then UV radiation can penetrate.
Recommended treatments for sunburn include placing damp towels on the affected areas or having a cool shower. Applying a mild moisturizer on damp skin after a bath or shower helps to soothe the skin, ease its dryness and hide the peeling and flaking which accompanies sunburn. Also, drinking plenty of water and eating foods with high concentration of water prevents dehydration and helps the skin to heal faster.
Many people do not adopt efficient sun protection strategies because they believe in the sunburn myths they hear. For instance, some believe that around 80 percent of sun damage occurs before the age of 18, which suggests that any UV-related injury has already been done by the time we reach adulthood.
In fact, recent studies show that people receive only less than 25 percent of their total lifetime sun exposure by the age of 18. It is the cumulative sun exposure that is associated with skin cancers and which leads to other skin ailments, including wrinkles, thinning skin, dark spots and ‘broken’ capillary veins on the skin.
There is also a belief that people with dark skin do not need to worry about sunburn. However, studies reveal that nearly 30 percent of darker skinned ethnic groups can develop sunburns just as easily as people with pale skin.
Yet another myth is that sunscreen is only needed during the part of the day when the sun is directly overhead. Although the chances of developing sunburn are highest at this time, one particular type of UV radiation (UVA rays) is constant all day long.
Everyone needs to be wary when it comes to sun exposure, regardless of age, ethnicity, race and what time they are exposed to the sun. Without due caution, anyone can become sunburnt.