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Sunburn: Consequences and treatment

The sun emits more radiation during the summer, which means we need to take greater precautions when going outside during these hotter months. This article offers guidance on how to alleviate sunburn and when to see a medical professional after excessive sun exposure.

Consequences of excessive sun exposure

A small amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation is good for us as it creates vitamin D which helps to absorb calcium. Doctors may recommend sun exposure to people who suffer from eczema, psoriasis, rickets, or jaundice.

However, too much sun exposure can be harmful. Even in the absence of sunburn, overexposure to UV rays may lead to early ageing, eye injuries, and skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and UV rays increases the risk of all three types: melanoma, basal-cell carcinoma, and squamous-cell carcinoma.

Types of sunburn

What people generally refer to as “sunburn” is an inflammatory reaction to UV radiation damage to the skin’s outermost layers. Its gravity will depend on the person’s skin type, the sun’s intensity, and the duration of the exposure.

  • First-degree sunburn: Damage to the skin’s outer layer that heals on its own after a few days. This is by far the most common type of sunburn.
  • Second-degree sunburn: Damage to the skin’s inner layer (dermis), which may cause blistering. It can take weeks to heal and may need medical treatment.
  • Third-degree sunburn: All skin layers are severely damaged, including the layer of fat beneath the skin, and nerve endings may have been destroyed. This only occurs in very rare cases and requires emergency treatment.

See a doctor if you suffer from severe sunburn, one that produces blisters, covers a large portion of your body, and is accompanied by a high fever, dizziness, headache, severe pain, dehydration, confusion, nausea or chills.

Treatment

First and second-degree sunburns can typically be treated at home. Steps include:

  • Keep away from direct sunlight and cover the sunburned skin with loose clothing while it heals.
  • Drink water to avoid dehydration
  • Do not peel the skin and leave any blisters alone.
  • Take a cool bath or shower.
  • Use cooling and hydrating creams, including hydrocortisone cream, aloe vera gel or petrolatum jelly.

Prevention

When spending time outside in the Spanish summer, wear sunglasses, cover up as much skin as is comfortable, and apply sunscreen lotion to those exposed body parts. If you intend to sunbathe, you should use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, reapply every 2-3 hours, and avoid sunbathing during the hottest hours of the day.

In addition to the importance of drinking water in order to staying hydrated, there are certain antioxidant foods that may help combat sunburn damage:

  • Green Tea
  • Tomatoes
  • Red pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Aloe vera
  • Pomegranate
  • Citrus
  • Carrots
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