Why is it that skin cancer develops in one out of every five people, yet tanned and sunscreen-less bodies are regularly strewn about every beach each summer? If you are late to the game, here is a collection of sun and skincare tips to get you through this summer unharmed.
What is sunburn?
In order to avoid sunburn, you must first know what it is. According to WebMD, sunburn is “skin damage from the ultraviolet (UV) sun rays.” UV rays have the ability penetrate to the layer of living cells and kill them.
The body then reacts to this damage in two ways: first, the immune system becomes aware of the newly dead cells and brings in reinforcements. The blood flow increases to the areas of damage and the capillary walls open up to let white blood cells in. These cells work to remove the dead cells.
Second, the nerve endings that have been singed from the rays signal pain to the brain.
The dead cells send additional pain signals by releasing a chemical known as histamine that activates pain receptors in your body.
Who gets burned?
- Fair, freckled skin
- Blondes or redheads
- Blue-eyed people
- Children six and under
- Seniors over 60
What to look for in sunscreen
How do you select the correct sunscreen? Water resistant does not mean waterproof. What it really means is that the SPF will stay effective from 40 to 80 minutes (depending on the resistance level) while the user is swimming or sweating.
Chemicals like para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) have been shown to irritate allergies, discolor clothing, and increase the risk of cellular UV damage. Check the label for this ingredient, as well as benzephenones: dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone. Reach for a kid-friendly sunscreen if you are concerned about harmful chemicals: they are less likely to irritate the skin than other products.
Pay attention to SPF level. The number located on the bottle will tell you the amount of protection you will get from sun UVB rays. While there is no sunscreen that can completely block UV rays, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 will typically block about 97 percent of the rays.
How to apply sunscreen for proper sun protection
- Divide the body in to 11 sections: two sections for each leg (upper and lower, total of four), one for abdominal area, one for chest, one for the upper back, one for lower back, one for each arm, and one for the head.
- Apply two fingers worth of sunscreen per section of skin. Choose sunscreen with SPF 30 and make sure it protects against UVA and UVB rays. This will give you two full hours of optimal protection.
- Reapply every two hours: sooner if you have been swimming or sweating.
- Never use expired sunscreen as effectiveness weakens over time.
Tips and facts
- The risk of melanoma doubles if you’ve had five or more sunburns.
- Forty-two percent of people polled by the Skin Cancer Foundation said that they are sunburned at least once a year.
- Skin exams are needed every year.
- Remember to examine your body from head to toe monthly.
- Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours.
- Seek shade between the hours of 10:00 and 4:00.
- Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher every day.
- Watch your legs: crossing them will rub off sunscreen.
Degrees of sunburn
1st degree burns only affect the epidermis. Most sunburns at this stage will only react with mild pain and redness. Typical symptoms will decrease within five days.
2nd degree burns affect deeper layers of the skin and damage nerve endings. Swelling and blisters will appear on the skin. Several days can pass before all the symptoms develop after a severe burn is noticed. Second degree burns can leave scars.
What other problems can occur after sunburn?
- Allergic reactions
- Vision problems
- Cold sores
- Brown spots
Natural ways to beat the burn
While shielding yourself with clothing and sunscreens is the best option to prevent sunburn, there are some natural foods, vitamins, and nutrients that will help protect your skin.
Lycopene This carotenoid is what gives yellow, red, and orange pigments to certain vegetables and fruits, lowers the risk of cancer, and blocks free radicals. Best source: tomatoes and watermelon
Astaxanthin A carotenoid that gives different pigments to food. Astaxanthin can be applied directly to skin to protect against sunburn as well. Best source: microalgae and krill
Omega-3 Omega-3 is a fatty acid that provides a number of health benefits, one being the reduction of inflammation throughout the body. Best source: sardines and salmon
Proanthocyanidins Flavanols that studies have shown effective in preventing UV damage. Best source: purple and red fruit like apples, blueberries, and grapes
Resveratrol This member of a plant compound known as a polyphenol is thought to limit the spread of cancer cells. Applied topically, it has been shown to reduce UVA and UVB damage. Best source: grapes, dark grape juice, and red wine
Severe burns depend on:
Time of day Sunburns occur during the hottest times of the day, between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. On top of that, while many think they are safe on a cloudy day, UV rays can pass right through clouds and cause the same severity of burn as a cloudless day.
Reflective surfaces If you are near water, white sand, concrete, snow, or ice, you can get burned!
Season The position of the sun directly affects the severity of sunburn you get. During the summer, the sun is higher above the horizon at any given time, causing the rays to be more concentrated.
Altitude Higher altitudes put you at higher risk for burns because there is less earth atmosphere to block the sunlight. For every 1,000 ft in elevation, the chance of being sunburned increases four percent!
Proximity to equator Those living closest to the equator have a higher chance of being burned. For example, the southern United States gets 1.5 times more sunlight than the northern states.
UV Index The index, made by the EPA, is a prediction of the UV radiation levels on a scale from 1 to 11. The higher the level, the greater the chances of sizzling your skin.
Areas that burn
Everyone knows that in order to protect yourself from sunburn, sunscreen (or some sort of cover) should be used on your legs, arms, face, and torso. But what areas are you forgetting?
- Ears: the tops of the ears get forgotten the most and are frequently burned.
- Neck: the back of your neck often gets missed, especially for those with longer hair.
- Fingernails: while this area rarely gets burned, it has been known to happen. Nails will become yellow-toned after a sunburn.
- Feet: the tops of feet are commonly missed when legs are being lathered.
- Arm holes in clothing: Even when you are wearing clothing, when your body moves, arm and neck holes will expose skin that is unprotected.
- Scalp: though hair does not block UV rays from penetrating your skin, most people avoid using sunscreen on their part.
- Eyelids: without sunglasses, your eyelids are prime for burning.