We've all done it: spent a little too much time, with too little sunscreen or other protection, under the scorching rays of the sun. And because the skin's reaction takes hours to develop, we don't realize we are overcooked until it's too late. Now comes the days of pain and you may ask, "What now?"
When it comes to sunburns, there are many misconceptions about the effects of the sun on your health and about treatment options. Sharp Rees-Stealy dermatologist Dr. Caroline Thornton uncovers six common myths about sunburns.
1. Does most sunburn damage happen before you are 18 years old, or are adults still at risk?
Although temporary, sunburn can cause long-lasting damage and increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Sunburns during childhood are also correlated with the development of an increased number of pigmented moles. Some moles can become atypical and may be an indicator of increased risk for melanoma. Young children need to be protected and instructed in how to protect themselves.
Many medications make people more susceptible to sunburn, even to the UVA part of the spectrum. Be sure to check medication labels and take extra precautions with broad-spectrum sunscreens.
2. Can you get sunburn on a cloudy day?
Cloud cover blocks the visible light but does not absorb UV radiation well, so be sure to apply sunscreen early on the long days of "May Gray" and "June Gloom."
3. Do "cooling products" help sunburn?
Cool baths followed by moisturizers containing aloe vera or soy can help soothe the pain. Hydrocortisone cream can help relieve pain and is available without a prescription. Avoid treating a sunburn with "-caine" products such as benzocaine, which can cause an allergic reaction and irritate the skin.
4. Should you put sunscreen on your burn to stop further damage to your skin?
Ideally, it is best to stay out of the sun after sunburn while the skin heals. Applying broad-spectrum sunscreen to exposed areas and wearing sun-protective clothing can help prevent further damage.
5. Does your sunburn heal faster if you peel sunburned skin or break blisters?
Peeling skin will heal faster if it is moisturized. Picking off layers of skin may make it more prone to infection. Blisters form to help skin heal and protect from infection so are best left intact during the healing process.
6. Can oral medications reverse sunburn damage?
Once redness is present the damage is done and inflammatory cascades are triggered. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin can help reduce redness, swelling and pain.
Sunburn is best prevented, explains Dr. Thornton. "Limit time in direct sun, especially midday," she adds. "Wear broad-brimmed hats, sunglasses and sun-protective clothing with long sleeves. Apply broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher on all skin that isn't covered."