Sunburn isn’t funny. Every movement is painful, and trying to sleep feels like you’re lying on a bed of razors. If you get sunburnt, it’s a bad thing. Your skin is your body’s defence mechanism against skin damage caused by the sun. And if you think sunburns turn into tans – they don’t. It’s just a myth. All that will happen to you is a bucket-load of peeling skin is days of agony.
This isn’t to say that you should spend the rest of your waking moments inside. Sunshine is good for the body and soul, but in moderation. Controlling your time in the sun will ensure you get the most out of your time outdoors, and also protect yourself against nasty things like cancer, heatstroke and exhaustion.
Be sun-savvy this summer
Many people think that sunscreen is all you need to protect yourself from a scorching hot day. But skin care in summer goes beyond sunblock. Working on your summer routine can really help.
Stay indoors or in the shade between 10am and 4pm; play tennis or gholf early in the morning or late in the afternoon; wear sunblock with a sun-protection factor of at least 30 on all exposed areas of skin every day, rain or shine. Wear long sleeves and use plenty of moisturiser if you swim a lot.
Get the most out of your sunscreen
Always use a sunscreen that protects your skin against both UVA and UVB rays (check the label). The ingredients in sunscreen absorb ultraviolet radiation by forming a barrier on the skin’s surface. Energy from sunlight is converted to heat, and is dissipated harmlessly.
Sunscreens work best if they're used properly: shake the bottle before using it; rub the sunscreen in to ensure even coverage; wait ten minutes before having a swim, or it’ll just wash off; and reapply after swimming, drying off with a towel or sweating.
First aid for sunburn
Sunburn can easily lead to first-degree burns, especially in young children. In severe cases, secondary burns can also rear their ugly heads. While children should be kept out of the sun between 10am and 3pm, parents can't always keep an eye on them. So what should you do if your child has had too much sun?
If needed, treat the child for dehydration; soothe the burns with cool water or compressors and let the child rest in a cool room; 1% hydrocortisone cream relieves pain, and tea tree oil may soothe the burn; use paracetamol for pain; apply lotion to relieve itch from peeling; and watch for signs of heat exhaustion.
Check your sunspots
By now you should know the drill: avoid the sun between 10am and 4pm., wear a high-factor sunscreen and cover up with long sleeves, a hat and good sunglasses. But this isn't where it stops – you also need to get well acquainted with every inch of your skin.
Most people know the importance of keeping an eye on heavily pigmented spots (e.g. moles), but you need to extend that scrutiny to any suspicious spots. A good idea for keeping track of moles and other possible ‘sun spots’ is to photograph them periodically, then compare the pictures for any changes. Don’t forget about those bits you don’t usually see, like your back: get a partner or friend to check on the spots you can’t see easily in the mirror.
(Health24, January 2007)