Did you know that getting a sunburn as infrequently as twice per year can significantly increase your chances of getting skin cancer? In fact, it can triple your risk, according to the Cancer Research UK and Harper’s Bazaar.
Even limited sun exposure and minor problems can spell big trouble for your long-term health. Learn how to prevent sunburn and stave off serious health problems that start by getting too much sun.
Don’t Believe Common Sunburn Myths
Family practice physicians see it all the time. The dangers of the sun are frequently underestimated. Many Americans believe that the occasional sunburn, even severe ones, are not a problem. That is simply not true. Learn to pick out misinformation. Here are the top sun-related myths busted:
- You cannot get a sunburn on a cloudy day. It is possible to get a sunburn on a cloudy day or while lounging in the shade. “Not only can you burn when it’s cloudy — you might get an even worse sunburn, as it is unlikely you will realize how powerful the UV rays are,” Harper’s Bazaar writes. A surprising 80% of UV rays penetrate clouds, meaning that you are only slightly less likely to burn on a cloudy day. Similarly, even if you are undercover like an umbrella or a tree, it is still possible to get a sunburn. The sun’s rays can reflect off nearby surfaces. Those rays are powerful enough to give you a sunburn, sun damage, or even — with enough time — sun poisoning.
- One or two applications are plenty. Depending on how you are spending your day, a single application of sunscreen may not be enough. The Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) recommends applying sunscreen 30 minutes before venturing out into the sun and reapplying every two hours that you stay outside in the sun. If you sweat excessively or go swimming, reapply sunscreen right away.
- If you have tan or dark skin, you can skip the sunscreen. People with fair skin are at most risk of skin cancer. That does not mean that people with black or brown skin can skip it altogether. It is important to apply sunscreen no matter what. Plus, keep in mind that, even if you have a “base tan,” sunscreen is still important. If your skin is normally Caucasian or fair, a golden brown tan is actually an indication of at least some sun damage. Continue applying sunscreen as necessary.
- You’re safe from the sun in the water. Since being in the water has cooling effects, you might not realize that your skin is burning. According to studies, up to 40% of total UV radiation penetrates the skin even half a meter below the surface of water. To avoid harmful UV rays, you would have to dive at least 2.5 meters inshore. Either on a swimming pool or in the ocean, this myth is very false, since there are many reflecting surfaces around water activities that can amplify UV rays.
- Cosmetics with SPF protect from the sun. This is not correct, as sunscreen is definitely necessary even when using cosmetics with SPF. Most cosmetic products offer either no protection or protection that is lower than the recommended SPF30. Unless they are labeled with a higher rating or equal to SPF30, you should add sunscreen before applying any makeup (either on sunny days or cloudy days).
- Coconut oil as sunscreen. Although coconut oil can be used as a skin moisturizer, it is not advised to use it as a sunscreen, since it does not provide any SPF or UV protection. In reality, coconut oil under the sun can cause sunburn. Once indoors it can be used to moisturize the skin.
Prevent Damaging Sun Exposure
Fall is just around the corner. With any luck, extremely hot temperatures and abnormally high UV indexes are behind us. Still, it is necessary to take precautions as doctors believe that most skin cancers can be avoided by preventing sun damage.
When looking at sunburned skin through a microscope, you can notice how the cells and blood vessels have been damaged. Exposure to the sun causes long-term damages to your skin, weakening the tissue and making it look dry, wrinkled, discolored, and leathery.
Prevent sunburn and sun poisoning before they warrant a trip to urgent care clinics. Wear sunscreen every day, even if it’s cloudy and apply a generous amount. Reapply as necessary; the recommended amount is every two hours, but if you are swimming or sweating reapply every hour. Cover up. The more clothing you wear while in direct sunlight, the better. Wear a hat to prevent especially sensitive areas, like your face, ears, and scalp, from burning. Sunglasses are also important to protect the eyes, make sure to wear lenses that have 99% to 100% UV absorption. Try to avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., as the UV rays are strongest during this time.
Should you treat sunburns at home or visit nearby urgent care clinics? The answer depends on the severity of your symptoms. If your sunburn or sun damage is relatively mild, start by treating the affected area with the usual treatments. Apply aloe or treat with cold water, ice, or ice packs. Avoid harsh soaps or perfumes that can dry out your skin. If you are experiencing swelling, redness, and discomfort consider taking ibuprofen or aspirin. Drink water and/or sports drinks with electrolytes to stay hydrated.
Some home remedies include natural bath therapies. You can add lavender or chamomile essential oil to relieve the pain. Applying witch hazel to the skin can also alleviate inflammation and relieve sunburn. Another remedy is using vitamin E oil on the skin, as it decreases inflammation. Cucumbers have great analgesic properties. Just blend until a paste is created and apply to the affected sunburned areas.
Sunburn warrants a trip to a local urgent care clinic or a trusted medical professional if you experience fever, chills, confusion, and/or significant blistering. Pus and red streaks are signs of a serious infection. If you experience skin blisters, you should not pop them. Instead, let them heal as blisters form to help protect them from infection. Even one severe sunburn or one instance of infection or sun poisoning can have an impact on your long-term health. While it is always best to see a doctor if necessary, when it comes to the sun, it is best to take preventative action if at all possible.
Sunburns, sun damage, and sun poisoning are serious. In fact, they have the potential to significantly increase your risk of getting cancer. Be proactive. Cover up, wear sunscreen, and stay out of the sun during peak hours. If you have signs of severe sun damage, like fever, chills, or blistering, do not hesitate to visit your local urgent care clinic.
Diet is often underestimated when it comes to sun protection, but actually, there are some foods that can help against sun damage. High pigment fruits, vegetables, and other foods can contribute to building up the skin’s natural barrier against harmful UV rays, as they containing special proactive compounds. Incorporating these skin-loving foods can add extra sun protection and a healthy skin glow.
- Blueberries: These delicious and tiny fruits are actually very important when it comes to skincare. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants that fight free radicals, they are also a great source of vitamin C. You can enjoy it during breakfast time, with yogurt and granola.
- Carrots and leafy greens: Carrots and leafy greens like kale and spinach are great beta carotene-packed additions to your meals. They have been proved to protect against skin cancer. The beta carotene found in these foods is converted into vitamin A when absorbed. This vitamin is vital for skin health, as it provides natural sun protection. An easy way to include them in your diet is through smoothies or colorful and tasty salad toppings.
- Watermelon: This amazing fruit contains lycopene, an antioxidant that absorbs UVA and UVB radiation. It takes the skin several days to become photoprotective, therefore a constant consumption of watermelon in your diet will activate this nutrient. You can add watermelon for breakfast, as frozen snacks, juice, or popsicles!
- Nuts and seeds: Chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and flax all contain omega 3 fatty acids. Since our body can’t produce omega-3s, it’s important to get them from our food. Omega-3 helps maintain your skin’s integrity and helps your body naturally cope with the effects of sun exposure. An easy way to add them to your diet is as a quick snack, you can mix them or also add them to your breakfast, toasts, or salads.
Other amazing foods that enable skin protection from sun exposure or damage include tomatoes, cauliflower, green tea, cacao powder, sardines, and sunflower seeds. There are many options to include on your diet and also fun and creative ways to enjoy them either on your strong meals or as light snacks.