Sunburn and Your Skin (OUCH!)


Here it is! The requisite summer blog on sunscreen! There is something about the summer heat that just makes my wellness brain say, “You know Sarah, you should write a blog on sunscreen.” So, okay wellness brain, here we go…

Doing a little digging, blogger Dave wrote an amazing blog on sunscreen last year. In it he covers SPF, reapplication, expiration dates, cosmetics and hydration, complete with a  Jersey Shore clip. Clearly I can’t compete with that. So, if you have questions on  SPF, reapplication, expiration dates, cosmetics, hydration or the Jersey Shore, I highly suggest you check out Dave’s aptly named blog, Sunscreen (Complete with a Jersey Shore clip).

Instead, I decided to explore sunburn, i.e. the result of not wearing sunscreen.

First question: What is sunburn? I don’t mean what does sunburn look or feel like. Most of us have had at least one minor sunburn, and could probably describe the symptoms–  Pinkish or red skin, which is warm or hot to the touch and typically painful (ouch!), though it really does depend on severity of the burn. But I mean, what is sunburn!? Why is it that when you sit in the sun you get sunburn!? The answer is UV radiation. Basically, ultraviolet light can kill your skin cells. As your body senses the damage, it triggers an immune response, expanding capillaries in the skin and sending in extra white blood cells to remove the dead skin cells. It’s this increased blood flow that causes sunburn to be red and warm. At the same time, nerve endings in your brain are sending pain signals to your brain as a not so subtle hint to get out of the sun! The length of time in the sun and your skins’ sensitivity determine how severe of a burn you get. Which brings me to…

My second question: Why do I, with my very pale, uh I mean fair skin, get so much more burnt than my darker peers?  Looking around on the trusty internet, I found the Melanoma Foundation’s page. There they detail four different types of skin…

  • Type 1: Pale or milky white with freckles. Red or blonde hair. Blue, green or hazel eyes. Always burns.
  • Type 2: Very light brown with some freckles. Blonde or brown hair. Blue, green or hazel eyes. Sometimes tans, but usually burns.
  • Type 3: Light brown or olive skin. Light brown to dark hair. Hazel or brown eyes. Rarely burns, tans well.
  • Type 4: Dark brown or black sin. Brown hair. Rarely burns, tans very rapidly.

On the site, you can even take a little quiz, called the Fitzpatrick Skin Type test, asking you about your genetic disposition, your reaction to the sun and your tanning habits. It then tells you which of the four categories you most likely fall under. (Key word being most likely, only a dermatologist can actually tell you your skin type.)

So, what I found is I hover somewhere between a 1 and a 2 (told you I’m pale!). This also means I’m highly susceptible to UV radiation and am at increased risk for skin damage and skin cancer. In order to care for my skin I should wear sunblock with an SPF at least 30 or higher. (This could explain why I keep getting burned, I need to toss my 15 and get some stronger sunblock!). It also said that I should perform a monthly self-exam of my skin for irregularities (new moles, moles that have changed shape, etc.). The American Dermatology Association provides information on what exactly to look for when examining yourself for irregularities. Additionally, for my skin type it’s recommended that I visit the dermatologist annually (again something I’ll have to change!). Check it out and see what the test says for you!

If you have concerns or questions about your skin health or sun care and want to make an appointment with a dermatologist Campus Health Services health services offers an onsite Dermatology Specialty Clinic! Just schedule an appointment with your Campus Health Services provider and then they can write you a referral to see the on-site Dermatology Clinic. Request an appointment with your provider online through the HealthyHeels portal, or call (919) 966-2281.

Finally, if you do find yourself with a sunburn this summer? Here are some recommended steps for treatment from the Skin Cancer Foundation.

  1. Act quickly. Sunburn can take up to 6 hours to fully develop. As soon as you see some pink creeping into your skin- ACT! Put on more sunscreen, or better yet, get out of the sun for a bit.
  2. Moisturize. Take a cool bath or shower (to ease the  heat), then put on lotion- a lot of it, regularly. This helps to restore the damaged skin and *hopefully* avoiding over drying and peeling.
  3. Hydrate. While we love hydration at all times here at CWS, it’s especially important to hydrate when burnt because the sunburn draws needed fluid away from the rest of the body. Avoid dehydration and combat your burn by drinking up!
  4. Don’t wait to medicate. It’s recommended to take ibuprofen for the first 48 hours of after getting burnt to help reduce the inflammation. Products like Tylenol or Advil will help reduce pain, however; don’t have the same anti-inflammatory that ibuprofen does. So for the full pain-relieving and healing effects, pick a product with ibuprofen.
  5. Assess the damage.  Most sunburn can be treated at home, but if a blistering burn covers 20% or more of the body; it might be a good idea to seek medical attention.  Additionally, if you have chills or fevers along with your sunburn, seek medical help. Finally, figure out what went wrong. Why did you get so burn? (For answers, maybe see questions 1 &2?) Vow (trust me the pain will be a motivator) to make changes not get sun burnt again!!

Happy (Safe & Sunburn-free) Sunning!

2 thoughts on “Sunburn and Your Skin (OUCH!)

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