Is getting a sunburn bad for you?

Sunburn can be so painful!  Unfortunate the hurt you feel over a few day scan cause lasting damage causing real pain much later in life.  Both the burn and the fact that your skin burns easily are not good. Sunburns are common and  caused by exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation.  UVB usually causes the burn and UVA causes the aging! The red skin, pain and blisters generally last only 3-7 days, but the ease with which you burn and how often (both of which can be a marker of your total sun damage) is linked to your risk of skin cancer.

Who is most at risk for a sunburn?

Fair skinned, blue eyed and red or blonde haired people are most at risk for sunburn and skin cancer.

When does the pain from sunburn begin to improve?

The redness begins 3-6 hours after exposure, peaks at 24 hours and begins to resolve by 72 hours. The pain follows a similar time line.

What does it mean if I get blisters?

Blisters indicate a deeper more serious sunburn. Just as with a thermal (heat) burn, blisters are characteristic of a second degree or superficial partial thickness burn. The good news is that small blisters rarely result in scarring.  The bad news, again, is these cumulative skin damage over time increases your risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging.

Should I pop the blisters?

Burn centers continually debate blister popping!  The general consensus is that small blisters should be left intact, but large blisters should be drained.

What can I put on my sunburn?

Aloe vera-based gels, cool compresses and calamine lotion my provide relief. You can also take NSAIDs, like ibuprofen or naproxen, for the pain. Topical steroids (like hydrocortisone) have not been shown to improve healing and reduce redness.

When do I need to go to the Urgency Center for care?

Just like all burns, fluid loss is the major concern. If your sunburn is so severe that you are suffering from dehydration, headache, vomiting or severe pain (what many people call sun poisoning) you should be treated. IV fluids and pain relievers can be helpful in making you feel better while your skin heals.

How can I prevent being sunburned?

Stay out of the sun during the peak exposure times of 10AM to 4PM, cover your skin with clothes and wear suncreen.  The types of sunscreen available seem endless, but the American Academy of Dermatology suggests using a sunscreen that offers all of the following: SPF 30 (or higher), broad-spectrum protection (UVA/UVB) and water resistance.  You should apply 15 minutes before going outside (it takes this long for it to absorb) and reapply every two hours or after sweating excessively or swimming.  Don’t forget to apply on cloudy days and even during the winter!

How does altitude affect getting a sunburn?

Visitors to our great state of Colorado are particularly prone to sunburn when they visit as they are not used to the increased intensity of the sun.  Your sun exposure increases the higher in altitude you climb because there is less of the earth’s atmosphere to block the UV exposure which increases about 4% for every 1000 ft gain in elevation.