Feeling the burn? What you need to know about sunburns

Did you know that sunburns are actually allergic reactions to the sun? Whether your skin turns a golden brown or bright red, it’s a sign that UV radiation from the sun has damaged the DNA in your skin cells.

Luckily, your skin is the largest organ on your body, and it heals quickly. It sends blood to the damaged area to help heal and create new skin. The extra blood in the capillaries is what causes the redness. That is why when you press on it, your skin will turn white and then go back to red as the capillaries refill. As new skin develops, your body gets rid of the damaged cells, which leads to peeling.

Keep your skin healthy and beautiful

If you want to keep your skin healthy and beautiful, it’s important to block UV rays as much as possible, even on cloudy days. While the day may be cool and the sun is hidden, the UV rays still cut through the clouds and wreak havoc on your skin.

Altitude can also play a significant factor. The higher up you are, the more likely you are to get sunburned because there is less of the earth’s atmosphere to block the sunlight.

In Arizona, UV rays are the strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so make sure to reapply your sunscreen during these times and try to stay in shaded areas.

Genetic conditions or medications may increase your sensitivity to UV rays and burning.

Feeling the burn? What you need to know about sunburns

Take care of and protect your skin

Here are a few things you can do to take care of and protect your skin from harmful UV rays:

  • Avoid tanning beds
  • Use a water-resistant broad-spectrum UVA/UVB SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen
    • Apply 15 minutes before going outside
    • Cover often missed areas such as the scalp and ears
    • Reapply every two hours
  • Wear protective clothing such as hats or sleeves
  • Take zinc
    • It is no substitute for applying sunscreen or covering up, but it could give you some breathing room if you can’t get back to apply your sunscreen, or if you have super fair skin that always burns

How to find relief

Here are some tips to help you get some relief and heal faster:

  • Stay out of the sun until fully healed
  • Cool compresses
  • Cool showers or baths
  • Lotions with aloe vera or lidocaine
  • Drinks a lot of water and electrolytes
    • Replacing lost fluids will help you heal faster
  • Moisturize regularly to keep the skin hydrated
  • Hydrocortisone cream may help relieve itching and swelling
  • Do not pick at peeling skin
  • Reduce inflammation and pain by taking a pain reliever
  • Ease itching by taking an antihistamine 

Leave no stone unturned

Melanoma, the most common type of skin cancer, is caused by too much exposure to UV rays. Did you know a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if they have had more than five sunburns in their life? The good news: if you use sunscreen daily with an SPF of 30 or greater, you reduce the risk of developing melanoma by 50%.

Thoroughly check yourself every month or so for anything that looks weird or different on your body. Especially if any odd lumps or moles form or change shape. If you notice anything different, contact your dermatologist.

“I highly recommend being seen by a dermatologist to screen for skin cancers,” says Andrew Newman, DO, board-certified dermatologist and an independent member of the HonorHealth medical staff. “No one is immune from getting a skin cancer, but you should continue to enjoy all the things you like to do, as long as you are screened regularly and diligently protect your skin.”

Find a dermatologist

If you notice anything suspicious on your skin or want to schedule a skin cancer screening, talk to a board-certified dermatologist.

Find a dermatologist