As the weather heats up, we all find joy in being outside and feeling the sun warm our skin. The sun gives us many gifts—it warms our planet, it gives plants and flowers energy to bloom—but it also has another one in store if we aren't careful: sunburn.
In the past, sunburns were almost a rite of passage. A baby oil fueled tanning session, an accidental nap at the beach, a forgotten baseball hat—all of these things could lead to a regrettable, unsightly burn, something that would smart for a day or two but then fade into a tan. Now we know that while the burn will fade, it leaves behind damage that will last forever. It is important to learn the risks and dangerous of sun exposure, and how to properly protect ourselves.
First, what qualifies as sunburn? Typically, skin reddens about two to six hours after exposure, with the most redness and irritation being felt twelve to twenty-four hours later. One may experience headache, chills, fever or blisters. Skin will begin to peel around four days later. If nausea and vomiting, confusion or severe pain accompanies sunburn, seek medical attention.
Medicines such as aspirin or ibuprofen may eliminate some of the discomfort. Aloe-based solutions cool and calm the skin. A household aloe plant can do the trick, but there are also commercial options available. A doctor will prescribe other treatment in case of a more serious burn.
Redness and discomfort will fade, but can have lasting cosmetic and health effects. Even tanning can have negative effects. It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a healthy tan. While vanity may cause the desire for tanned skin, that desire will ultimately backfire. Sun exposure speeds the appearance of wrinkles and causes discoloration, commonly known as sun spots or age spots. More seriously, sun damage is the leading cause of pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesions.
To protect yourself from sun damage, avoid tanning beds altogether and trying to avoid being in the sun when its rays are the strongest, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you cannot avoid the sun, make to sure wear sunblock. Wearing hats, light, long-sleeved shirts and pants can also minimize sun exposure. At the beach be sure to bring an umbrella, which can offer relief from strong sun while still allowing you to enjoy a relaxing afternoon by the shore. People often forget to protect their eyes and lips, but protection of those areas is easy. Wear UV blocking sunglasses and use a lip balm with SPF.
People with fair skin are more susceptible to skin damage, but no one is immune. Moles are a red flag for skin cancer. Normally, moles are uniform in shape and color, and no larger than a pencil eraser. If you suspect a mole is a problem, use the ABCD test.
If you notice a mole that looks suspicious, make an appointment with your doctor or a dermatologist. He or she can help you care for you skin so that you can look forward to the summer for years to come.