A sunburn is reddening and other damage on the skin caused by exposure to sunlight. The ultraviolet (UV) radiation of the sun is what inflicts the damage. In the short term, a sunburn can cause discomfort, itching, peeling skin and other skin trauma. But in the long term, sunburns can lead to greater health complications, like the chance of developing skin cancer.
Often, the golden tan that the sun can create on some types of people is considered desirable. But the reality is that a tan does damage just like sunburn. Seeking a tan through sun exposure is not recommended. Rather, everyone should be taking steps to protect themselves from sun exposure.
Complications of Sunburn
Sunburns typically cause hot, red skin that is painful to the touch. Over time, the sunburn may itch and peel. A sunburn accompanied by a fever is worth a visit to a doctor, as this may be a sign of heat stroke.
The major risks of sunburn are the long-term complications. Sunburn raises the risk of most forms of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are almost always found on sun-exposed parts of the body, and they are thought to be related to the accumulated effects of sun exposure over many years. And getting five or more sunburns is thought to double the risk of developing melanoma later in life.
Prevention and Treatment
The best way to protect the body against sunburn is to apply sunscreen for any sun exposure. Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin surfaces and reapplied every two hours. It’s also a good idea to wear protective clothing or stay in the shade during the sunniest portions of the day. Children are at a greater risk of sunburn, so sunscreen and protective clothing are especially important for them. And young babies under the age of 6 months should be kept out of the sun entirely.
Sunburns can be treated by drinking plenty of water, using soothing skin moisturizers and taking over-the-counter pain relievers. If the burn is severe, covers a large portion of the body or is accompanied by a fever, seek medical attention.
SOURCES: Skin Cancer Foundation
Too much could lead to skin cancer
Survey finds many salons willing to offer tanning to teens, despite legal bans
Depression and worries about appearance common in those who can't skip the tanning bed, study finds
Is indoor tanning addictive to some young women?
New proposal urges doctors to begin talking to parents when fair-skinned children are 6 months old
One out of three may not offer the right protection, study suggests
Infants aged 6 months and younger should avoid the sun
The spots could be linked to higher risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, study says
Squamous cell carcinoma is far more common and also dangerous if untreated, dermatologist says
Here's what it can do
When taking medication, check with pharmacist to see if sun exposure is an issue
Know the ABCs of SPFs
Could your medications be putting you at higher risk of sun damage?
Agency head calls persistent geographic gap a 'significant public health problem'
Pick a sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB light, skin specialist advises
Pack sun protection and any medications you need, FDA says
Shade, clothes and hats offer little ones safe protection, pediatric dermatologist says
Pediatricians offer advice on preventing sunburns, other warm weather problems
Some also make false claims about the health effects of tanning, researchers find
Suggestions for correct use
Experiment unlocks a way to tan without harmful UV exposure, which could help prevent skin cancer
Doctor shares tips for prevention, recognition
Study finds many people don't use it properly, raising their risk of skin cancer
Explain why it's important
Skin cancer expert offers advice for protection against summer rays
Some people with need for bronzed skin likely to drink too much alcohol or have depression, study finds
People addicted to sunbathing may be at higher risk of alcohol dependence, study finds.
Half as many high school students reported indoor tanning in 2015 versus 2009, survey finds
Skin cancer rates rising in this group, dermatologist warns
1 in 5 had suffered a sunburn in the past year, study finds
Nearly 20 percent of melanoma survivors admit getting a sunburn after diagnosis, new study finds.
Be aware of unusual health risks in the Caribbean and Central and South America, doctor advises
7 out of 10 surveyed overlook connection to skin cancer
Healthy habits are key to preventing the disease, cancer experts say
Local sun-safety campaigns may be key to progress against the deadly skin cancer, researchers say
1 in every 54 Americans will develop invasive form of the skin cancer in their lifetime
FDA proposal aims to protect younger people from skin cancer
But survey finds most tell older customers they can tan every day, counter to FDA-suggested limits
Certain groups should start screening earlier, study suggests
Researchers conclude most are in denial about the health risks
But young women in Washington, D.C., who use tanning salons oppose a total ban
These water-safety tips from the American Red Cross could save a life