Guide to Sunburn and Skin Cancer

When you spend too much time out in the sun without clothing covering your skin or adequate protection from sunscreen, you’ll probably end up with a sunburn. Sunburn can be very painful, and it can also cause permanent skin damage and premature aging. Even after a sunburn fades, the long-term effects of a sunburn could lead to the development of skin cancer.


Sunburn Explained

The sun produces natural ultraviolet radiation, which can damage the outer layers of skin. Tanning beds produce artificial ultraviolet radiation, which has similar effects. Prolonged exposure of the skin to ultraviolet radiation causes skin cells to become red and inflamed, which is sunburn.

  • Sunburn is painful and may involve mildly pink skin or angry red skin with blisters.
  • After a sunburn fades, skin often peels. Peeling skin is the body’s way of sloughing off damaged cells.
  • Don’t peel away your skin during your skin-care routine; allow it to peel naturally.

Risks Associated With Sunburn

Allowing the skin to burn repeatedly increases the risk of developing melanoma, which is a serious type of skin cancer. Scientists have learned that ultraviolet rays can also change a tumor-suppressing gene, making it harder for injured cells to repair themselves.

  • People who spend a lot of time outdoors working or playing sports have a greater risk of getting sunburned more often, which can lead to skin cancer.
  • One sunburn that causes blisters during childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s risk of developing melanoma.
  • The more often a person burns, the more likely it is that melanoma will occur at some point.
  • Having five or more sunburns effectively doubles the risk of developing melanoma.

What to Know About Sunburn

A person’s skin type determines how susceptible they are to sunburn. Those with fair skin are the most susceptible to sunburn. However, everyone is at risk of getting burned.

  • Even people who tan easily or who have suntans can have their cells damaged, which can lead to skin cancer.
  • The intensity of ultraviolet radiation varies according to your location, the time of day, and the time of year. A high ultraviolet index means that skin will burn faster and more dangerously.
  • It’s possible to get a sunburn even on overcast days. As much as 80 percent of ultraviolet rays can penetrate through clouds.
  • Even mild sunburns are potentially dangerous, involving skin injury and possible premature aging and skin cancer.

Sunburn Treatment and Prevention

Sunburn treatment can help alleviate the pain. Decreasing the inflammation and cooling the skin will usually bring pain relief. Prevent sunburn by avoiding the sun during the peak ultraviolet radiation hours, wearing clothing to protect your skin, and applying sunscreen with at SPF of at least 30.

  • Cool off sunburned skin with cool water and cold compresses. Don’t spend too much time in a cold bath or shower, though, because this can dry out the skin.
  • Dampen the skin and apply a gentle moisturizing lotion. Don’t use a skin-care product that contains oil-based ointments or petroleum, though, because this could trap in the heat and worsen the sunburn.
  • Consider taking ibuprofen to decrease inflammation and control pain.
  • Drink extra fluids to hydrate the body and replenish electrolytes.
  • See a doctor if a blistering sunburn occurs over a large portion of your body.

Myths About Sunburn and Skin Cancer

Many people believe myths about sunburn and skin cancer, which can have devastating results.

  • Some believe that a tanning bed is safer than the sun, which is not true.
  • It’s a common misconception that those who tan easily and don’t get sunburned won’t get skin cancer. Suntans and sunburns are not healthy for anyone.
  • People with dark skin are still at risk of developing skin damage and skin cancer.
  • Sunscreen is necessary every time you expose your skin to ultraviolet rays, even on cloudy days.

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