Many people get excited with the beginning of summer and look forward to days of fun and frolic out in the sun. They also develop a nice tan while out in the sun. With that aim in mind, they often overdo the time spent outdoors (especially on the beaches) and end up suffering from one of the common summer hazards, namely, sunburn.

In fact, sunburn is so common that despite warnings from health departments, approximately one third of adults and close to 70 percent of children end up looking like a lobster that stayed in the pot for too long. And this is owing to the number of hours spent outdoors, getting burned by the strong and harmful rays of the sun.

What is sunburn and how is it caused?

As the name suggests, sunburn is when the skin gets burned and turns red as well as irritated after being out in the sunny weather for too long. The harmful rays of the sun include three types of ultraviolet radiations of differing wavelengths, namely, the UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. The UVC light is not harmful as it does not reach the earth, but the other two types of light, the UVA and UVB, reach the earth and can even penetrate the human skin, leading to skin disorders, with sunburn being one of them. It even leads to premature aging. Ultraviolet light can cause serious damage to the skin and lead to conditions such as melanoma, a type of skin cancer. This highlights that spending too much time out in the sun can cause sunburn and related disorders.

However, the skin type and the geographical location, along with the intensity of the sun and time spent outdoors, also play a part in determining the chances of developing sunburn. Fair-skinned individuals are more susceptible to sunburns compared to those who are dark skinned. Also, the intensity of the sun in tropical areas, closer to the equator, is higher compared to places further away from the equator or places that are relatively cooler.

Symptoms of sunburn

Common signs of sunburn include reddened skin that burns and itches along with blisters and swellings, in severe cases. Further symptoms include weakness, headaches, and chills with a feverish feeling, similar to those experienced during the flu. The body eventually heals in a few weeks as the sun-damaged skin peels off, but the healing period is accompanied by itching.

Treatment and prevention of sunburn

For relief against sunburn, one can apply cold compresses or take cold baths to cool the skin, apply gels or creams containing aloe, menthol, and/or camphor, take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for the swelling and pain, remain hydrated, and stay out of the harmful sun. In case of blisters, fever, or symptoms of dehydration, medical help needs to be sought.

Sunburns can be prevented by avoiding the sun, especially when its rays are the strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wearing protective gear when out in the sun, such as loose-fitting and whole-body-covering clothes, sunglasses, and hats, will help prevent sunburn. Applying sunscreen diligently is also necessary to prevent sunburn.