I now have one of the worst sunburns I've ever had. It is not the worst because I left as soon as Clinton stopped speaking. I knew I was getting burned -- my skin looked bright red through my sunglasses though it looked the same without my sunglasses -- and when I scratched near my collarbone where the skin is thinner and very sensitive to sun, it stung. As soon as I could, I practically ran to get out of the sun. But this burn is pretty bad. Some six hours later, my skin is deep red, flaming hot, and tingling and prickling. I'm also feeling slightly nauseous. Bleah.
A woman named Erin with a bad sunburn
(Photo from her directory at MIT)
- Apply sunscreen about half an hour before you go out into the sun.
- Make sure you pretty much glop it on. Most people don't put on enough sunscreen, or they apply it too thinly.
- SPF = the ratio of the amount of time it would take for protected skin to get a burn vs. the time unprotected skin would burn. SPF 15, for example, is supposed to mean that if you wear sunblock with SPF 15, it would take 15 times longer before your skin burns than without sunblock. But that ratio is usually not accurate because many people don't apply sunblock correctly, or it washes off, etc.
Relatively new sunscreen products, all with high SPFs
(Photo from Blog This Next's pages on sunscreens)
- Most doctors recommend sunscreens with SPFs of at least 30.
- No sunscreen is waterproof. If it claims to be, it is lying. It can be water resistant, but it will not be waterproof.
- There are so many problems with sunscreen that packagers are no longer allowed to call it sunblock, only sunscreen.
- Choose a sunscreen that protects against UVB and UVA rays, a.k.a. "broad spectrum" protection.
- Sunscreens are good for a minimum of three years. But if you use the product properly and as often as you should (any time you're in the sun for more than 20 minutes), you should use up a bottle of sunscreen long before three years have passed.
- And by the way, there is no safe way to tan. Whether you're in the sun or in a tanning bed, you are damaging your skin and increasing the likelihood of giving yourself skin cancer.
- There really are no good ways to treat a sunburn once it's happened. This is why sunscreen is so important. The best you can do after the fact is try to make the pain and heat a little less severe.
The best stuff I ever used after a sunburn was a blue aloe vera gel. I can't remember now the exact name of the product, but it was something like this. Except this has Lidocaine in it, to which some people are allergic.
(Photo and opportunity to order from Drugstore.com)
- Things you can put on your skin to ease the burn:
- Equal parts milk and water on a cool compress.
- Aloe-based lotions.
- Or, if you have an aloe plant, you can split open a leaf and scoop out the goop and put it right on your skin, though it takes a lot of aloe goo to do very much. The aloe lotions are much easier to use and provide more coverage.
- Even regular moisturizers can help.
- Cool -- not cold -- baths or showers. If you do take a shower, you'll want to avoid a strong spray.
- You can also take aspirin or an NSAID like Tylenol, which can help reduce the pain and some blistering.
This person's shoulder was sunburned so badly, blisters arose. This blistering means he sustained a second-degree burn. If you burned your hand on the oven, say, enough to get a second degree burn, you'd take that pretty seriously, wouldn't you?
(Photo posted at Gadling.com)
- Things that will make your sunburn feel worse:
- Lotions with oils or Vasoline, which will trap the heat to your skin
- Old fashioned "treatments" like butter or toothpaste -- these will make the pain worse!
- Products with perfumes which will be irritants
- Bath salts or bath oils
- Scratchy towels or scrubby things like loofahs or sponges
- More sun exposure
- Also, products with anesthetics such as benzocaine or lidocaine (Solarcaine, e.g.) can trigger an allergic reaction
- You should go to the emergency room if your sunburn is so extreme you experience the following:
- Severe pain and blistering
- Severe chills
- Rapid pulse
- Nausea, even vomiting
- Fainting (a.k.a. sun poisoning)
- If these things are happening, you have sun poisoning.
- If you don't go to the hospital, you'll risk contracting an infection at the blister sites. What is more likely is that you could get severely dehydrated and lose way too may electrolytes, which can throw the body into toxic shock. You do not want that to happen.
This bicyclist is applying sunscreen, and look how happy he is!
(Photo from the Hopkins 4K for Cancer)
Your skin is your friend. Be nice to it.
(This includes you, too, Apple Lady!)
Melissa Stoppler MD, Summer Survival Kit, eMedicine Health
Melissa Stoppler MD, MedicineNet.com, Sunburn and Sun-Sensitizing Drugs
American Academy of Dermatology, Facts About Sunscreens
National Library of Medicine and NIH's Medical Encyclopedia, Sunburn