Today we’re talking all things sunburn. Let’s clear a few things up, shall we? Sunburn is…
- NOT a rite of passage for your golden sun-kissed tan.
- NOT something that only happens when you’re on holiday, say on a beach in Goa.
- NOT something that only affects certain skin shades.
Now we know what it isn’t - let’s delve into what it actually means for your skin, how to prevent it, soothe it and the short-term and long-term risks.
What is sunburn?
Put simply, sunburn is characterised by red, sore, heat-radiating skin that can develop after catching a few too many sun (UV) rays. Symptoms can range from uncomfortable pink-hued skin to peeling and blistering soreness. But, what is actually happening under the skin’s surface is a lot more complex than what meets the eye.
Melanin, which determines the pigment of your skin and defends against the sun, works to darken your skin when it feels exposed to UV. As we all have varying degrees of melanin in our skin, this reaction looks different (from shades of pink to a deep tan) but they are all signs of cellular damage to the skin.
When our skin has prolonged, unprotected exposure, an inflammatory reaction occurs which can cause the skin to swell, redden and become painful - aka sunburn.
The risks of sunburn
Sunburn = skin damage. In the short-term you may suffer from soreness, discomfort, peeling and blistered skin. But, even once your skin returns to its normal state, the damage remains. Sunburn accelerates the ageing of skin and can lead to various skin cancers including melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer).
Skin Cancer Foundation says that 1 blistering sunburn in childhood/adolescence more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma later in life. Sunburn is not a ‘holiday souvenir’ or your inevitable fate when the sun comes out, but rather your skin’s way of telling you that damage has been done internally and externally.
It’s true that you can be more prone to sunburn if you have less melanin in your skin, but that doesn’t mean that if you have darker skin you’re suddenly immune to skin damage or sunburn. All skin is susceptible to sunburn and even a blush, baby pink hue is a sign of sunburn.
How to prevent sunburn
Staying safe in the sun is vital, as sunburn is totally preventable. Don’t wait until you see the warning signs, because that’s far too late to act and you can never reverse the damage. Our top tips to prevent suffering from sunburn:
Always apply sun cream to protect your skin. We always recommend aiming for SPF30 or higher and apply it every couple of hours (or more frequently if you’re in and out of the pool/sweating/active in the sun).
- Keep an eye on the UV index forecast, because even on those cloudy overcast days your skin can still be exposed to high levels of UV that could cause skin damage.
- Seek out shade from the sun - say under a hat, umbrella or shelter - and avoid direct exposure particularly in the hours of the day when the sun is at its peak (usually between 11-3).
- Wear clothes and accessories that have an extra layer of UV protection, like your trusty sunnies.
What to do if your skin shows signs of sunburn?
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, sunburn can still occur. Here’s what to do and what not to do when you’ve noticed your skin reacting to the sun:
Soothe sore skin with a cooling after-sun lotion or moisturiser enriched with nourishing ingredients like aloe vera. If your skin feels hot-to-touch, you may want to pop your go-to moisturiser in the fridge to add a more instantly cooling sensation.
Cool down the skin as soon as you notice any redness, whether that’s jumping in a cold bath or soothing with an ice pack.
If you’ve noticed your skin blistering up or peeling, do not interfere. It may be tempting, but avoid picking at the damaged skin or bursting blisters, the skin needs to heal on its own time and in its own way. You could aggravate it further by interfering.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or electrolyte-replenishing drinks (like coconut water or sports drinks). Your body is going to work double time to heal from the sunburn and will start using up your water reserves quickly - so it’s important you replenish.
- If you’re suffering from severe symptoms (painful blisters, fever, etc) seek medical advice immediately. And if a child has suffered sunburn, we recommend you speak to a doctor too.