Sunlight can help our mental outlook and help us feel
healthier. For people who have arthritis, the sun's warmth can help relieve some of
their physical pain. Many people also think that a
suntan makes a person look young and healthy. But
sunlight can be harmful to the skin, causing immediate problems as well as
problems that may develop years later.
sunburn is skin damage from the sun's
ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most sunburns cause mild pain
and redness but affect only the outer layer of skin (first-degree burn). The red skin might hurt when you touch it. These sunburns are
mild and can usually be treated at home.
Skin that is red and
painful and that swells up and blisters may mean that deep skin layers and
nerve endings have been damaged (second-degree burn). This type of sunburn is usually more painful and takes longer to
Other problems that can be present along with sunburn
Heatstroke or other heat-related
illnesses from too much sun exposure.
skin type affects how easily you become sunburned.
People with fair or freckled skin, blond or red hair, and blue eyes usually
sunburn easily. Your age also affects how your skin reacts to the sun. The skin
of children younger than 6 and adults older than 60 is more sensitive to
You may get a more severe sunburn depending on:
The time of day. You are more likely to get a
sunburn between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, when the sun's rays
are the strongest. You might think the chance of getting a sunburn on cloudy
days is less, but the sun's damaging UV light can pass through
Whether you are near reflective surfaces, such as water,
white sand, concrete, snow, and ice. All of these reflect the sun's rays and
can cause sunburns.
The season of the year. The position of the sun
on summer days can cause a more severe sunburn.
Altitude. It is
easy to get sunburned at higher altitudes, because there is less of the earth's
atmosphere to block the sunlight. UV exposure increases about 4% for every
1000 ft (305 m) gain in
How close you are
to the equator (latitude). The closer you are to the equator, the more direct
sunlight passes through the atmosphere. For example, the southern United States
gets 1.5 times more sunlight than the northern United States.
UV index of the day, which shows the risk of
getting a sunburn that day.
Preventive measures and home treatment are usually all that is
needed to prevent or treat a sunburn.
Protect your skin from the sun.
not stay in the sun too long.
Use sunscreens, and wear clothing
that covers your skin.
If you have any
health risks that may increase the seriousness of sun
exposure, you should avoid being in the sun from 10 in the morning to 4 in the
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Home treatment measures may provide
some relief from a mild sunburn.
Use cool cloths on sunburned
Take frequent cool showers or baths.
soothing lotions that contain aloe vera to sunburned areas. Topical steroids
1% hydrocortisone cream) may also help with sunburn pain and swelling.
Note: Do not use the cream on children younger than age
2 unless your doctor tells you to. Do not use in the rectal or vaginal area in
children younger than age 12 unless your doctor tells you to.
A sunburn can cause a mild fever and a headache. Lie down in a
cool, quiet room to relieve the headache. A headache may be caused by
dehydration, so drinking fluids may help. For more
information, see the topic
There is little you can do to
stop skin from peeling after a sunburn—it is part of the healing process.
Lotion may help relieve the itching.
Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:
Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
Most skin cancer can be prevented. Use the following tips to
protect your skin from the sun. You may decrease your chances of developing
skin cancer and help prevent wrinkles.
Avoid sun exposure
The best way to prevent a
sunburn is to avoid sun exposure.
Stay out of the midday sun (from
10 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon), which is the strongest sunlight. Find
shade if you need to be outdoors. You can also calculate how much
ultraviolet (UV) exposure you are getting by using the
shadow rule: A shadow that is longer than you are means UV exposure is low; a
shadow that is shorter than you are means the UV exposure is high.
Other ways to protect yourself from the sun include wearing protective
clothing, such as:
Hats with wide
4 in. (10 cm) brims that cover
your neck, ears, eyes, and scalp.
UV ray protection, to prevent eye damage that may lead to cataracts.
Loose-fitting, tightly woven clothing that
covers your arms and legs.
Clothing made with sun protective fabric. These clothes have a special label that tells you how effective they are in protecting your skin from ultraviolet rays.
Preventing sun exposure in children
start protecting your child from the sun when he or she is a baby. Because
children spend a lot of time outdoors playing, they get most of their lifetime
sun exposure in their first 18 years.
It's safest to keep babies younger than 6 months out of the sun. If you can't keep your baby out of the sun, cover your child's skin with hats and clothing. Protect any bare skin with a small amount of sunscreen.
children the ABCs of how to protect their skin from getting sunburned.
A = Away. Stay away from the sun in the
middle of the day (from 10 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon).
C = Cover up. Wear clothing that covers the
skin, hats with wide brims, and sunglasses with UV protection. Even children 1
year old should wear sunglasses with UV protection.
S = Speak out. Teach others to protect
their skin from sun damage.
If you can't avoid being in
the sun, use a sunscreen to help protect your skin while you are in the
Be sure to read the information on the sunscreen label about the SPF factor listed on the label and how much protection it gives your skin. Follow the directions on the label for applying the sunscreen so it is most effective in protecting your skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays.
Choosing a sunscreen
Sunscreens come in lotions, gels,
creams, ointments, and sprays. Use a sunscreen that:
Says "broad-spectrum" that protects the skin from ultraviolet A
and B (UVA and UVB) rays.
Use lip balm or cream that has
SPF of 15 or higher to protect your lips from getting sunburned or developing
Use a higher SPF at when you are near water, at higher elevations or in tropical
climates. Sunscreen effectiveness is affected by
the wind, humidity, and altitude.
Some sunscreens say they are water-resistant or
waterproof and can protect for about 40 minutes in the sun if a person is doing
a water activity.
Applying a sunscreen
Apply the sunscreen at least 30 minutes
before going in the sun.
Apply sunscreen to all the skin that will
be exposed to the sun, including the nose, ears, neck, scalp, and lips.
Sunscreen needs to be applied evenly over the skin and in the amount
recommended on the label. Most sunscreens are not completely effective because
they are not applied correctly. It usually takes about
1 fl oz (30 mL) to cover an
Apply sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours while in the sun
and after swimming or sweating a lot. The SPF value decreases if a person
sweats heavily or is in water, because water on the skin reduces the amount of
protection the sunscreen provides. Wearing a T-shirt while swimming does not
protect your skin unless sunscreen has also been applied to your skin under the
Other sunscreen tips
The following tips about sunscreen will help you use it
Older adults should always use a
sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to protect their very sensitive
If you have sensitive skin that burns easily, use a sunscreen
with an SPF of at least 15.
If you have dry skin, use a cream or
If you have oily skin or you work in dusty or
sandy conditions, use a gel, which dries on the skin without leaving a
If your skin is sensitive to skin products or you have had a skin
reaction (allergic reaction) to a sunscreen, use a sunscreen
that is free of chemicals, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), preservatives, perfumes, and alcohol.
If you are going to have high
exposure to the sun, consider using a
physical sunscreen (sunblock), such as zinc oxide,
which will stop all sunlight from reaching the skin.
If you need to
use sunscreen and insect repellent with DEET, do not use a product that
combines the two. You can apply sunscreen first and then apply the insect
repellent with DEET, but the sunscreen needs to be reapplied every 2
Do not use tanning booths to get a tan. Artificial
tanning devices can cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.