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The summer scourge of staying too long under the sun.

by Korina Tanyu, M.D.

APRIL 2012

A sunburn doesn’t just happen by the beach or at the poolside. By exposing yourself to sources of ultraviolet (UV) rays such as the sun, tanning beds, phototherapy lamps and arc lamps, you are at risk. A walk in the park can become a walk into sunburn hell if you have not adequately armed yourself with protection.

Pain in the first degree

Sunburns are considered first-degree burns, according to Kathleen Nicole Tan, M.D., of Bethany Hospital in Tacloban City. Sunburns usually do not have any long-term effects unless getting them has become a habit. She also mentions that different skin types have different degrees of burning, depending on the skin color: People with fair complexions burn fast but do not develop much tanning. On the other hand, those with darker skin take a longer time to burn but get more tanned.

Sunburns usually start out as redness over the exposed skin three to four hours after exposure. The redness peaks at 12 to 24 hours after exposure. It can be painful and may eventually blister. Skin scaling and peeling occur four to seven days later. Sunburn may also occur under clothed skin, as ultraviolet radiation can be transmitted through wet clothing.

Aside from the acute effects of sunburn, it may also lead to more serious consequences. Sun exposure causes damage to the skin cells and the DNA of the skin. You do not actually have to suffer a burn to destroy the skin cells. When this occurs, some cells either repair themselves or die. Damaged skin cells may lead to premature aging, the suppression of the immune system, and skin cancers.

• Premature aging

Fine lines and wrinkles appear earlier on people who often expose themselves to UV rays. Skin tends to sag and develop dark spots as a consequence of repeated sun and UV exposure. You will notice that people who are exposed to the sun more often look a lot older than people of the same age group who avoid the sun.

• Suppression of the immune system

The white blood cells are the body’s fighters of infection. When skin gets burned, their function is compromised. This may last up to 24 hours but may become permanent in the case of repeated sunburns.

• Skin cancers

Repeated sun exposure or suffering from a very serious sunburn can increase the risk of skin cancers in your later years. The three most common skin cancers are basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancers, and melanoma—the rarest and most fatal.

Most sunburns heal completely within a few weeks. In most cases, they involve providing simple first-aid care. Sunburns can be treated with a cold compress. In cases of severe pain, pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen may be used. The peeling that comes after is unavoidable. However, lotion may relieve the itching. According to Dr. Tan, putting topical steroids such as one percent hydrocortisone cream or mometasone and applying cooling lotions with aloe vera, vitamin E, and emollients on affected areas may reduce pain and swelling. Taking frequent cold showers may also alleviate the pain.

Severe sunburns may require the need for aggressive fluid resuscitation. You should consult a physician if it doesn’t seem like your ordinary sunburn or for children who burn easily.

For prevention tips to keep you safe from unwanted summer scars, get your copy of HealthToday’s April issue, out now in major newsstands and bookstores.

sunburn and unwanted souvenirs

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