As the summer season kicks into high gear, more and more people are going to start complaining to their friends about sunburn. “I got burnt walking to the car!” “30 minutes painting the porch, and now I’m bright red!” The fact is, almost everyone has been sunburned at one point or another by the time they reach adulthood. It is sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes outright painful, and always should be avoided if possible.
A sunburn is a visible reaction of the skin to ultraviolet radiation (UV). The most prevalent source of such radiation is the sun itself, but any sort of ultraviolet light source (tanning beds, e.g.) can be a cause as well. UV rays damage the skin and leave a hot, red blemish across the skin. The effects of these burns can cause serious skin abnormalities, premature wrinkling, and even lead to skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most pervasive form of cancer in the United States, largely due to sun exposure.
It seems that it would be obvious that the most dangerous part of the day for sunburns would be during the sweltering hours when the sun is at its highest levels. It is true that 10-4 is, generally speaking, the hottest part of the day. However, the insidious thing about invisible UV rays is that they can be present and affecting your skin even during the cooler moments of the afternoon and morning, and even while the sun is obstructed by clouds.
If you are going to be performing outdoor activities during the summer months, try to remember to dress with sunburn in mind. Wear lighter colors and fabrics--pants and shirts with long sleeves can help shield your skin, but don’t have to be heavy (it is possible to be comfortable and protected at the same time). Sunscreen is useful, as long as it is reapplied often. If you have a particularly sensitivity to sunburn--fair-haired and pale-skinned people tend to fare the worst at this--consider using a sunblock (sunblocks have an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher).
If you do find yourself the victim of the sun’s rays, be prepared for some discomfort. At its mildest, a sunburn will cause redness, skin irritation, and some dryness, peeling, and itching. Treatments for the burns can include an aloe ointment to help heal the skin. Cool baths and cool, light compress for the head and neck can help draw out some of the heat. A first degree sunburn should clear up after a few days, but a second-degree burn may take a couple of weeks to heal--and should be looked at by a medical professional. In serious cases, you could experience nausea, severe blistering, chills, fever, and more else besides.
Prevention of sunburn boils down to one key concept to understand: Cover Up! Stay out of the direct sunlight as much as possible. Shade is your friend. Keep your skin covered when you can not avoid the sun’s rays. Hats and sunglasses are useful tools, as are light, long-sleeved shirts and pants. Cover exposed skin with sunblock.