Sunburns Happen

sunburn_manDespite following my advice to wear your sunscreen every day, sunburns do happen.  Maybe you forgot to reapply after swimming, or you missed an area when applying the first time.

Whatever the reason, sunburns do occur and we have to deal with the consequences.  The quicker we treat sunburns after becoming aware that we have one (usually 2-8 hours after sun exposure), the better.

As you all know, sun exposure damages your skin by overexposure to the harmful radiation of the sun’s ultraviolet light.  Your skin reacts to this radiation by a series of chemical and cellular events.

These microscopic events results in the redness, pain, swelling and tightness of the typical sunburn.  Basically, we have to realize that sunburn equals damage to your skin.

That “healthy glow” is not so healthy.  In fact, the longer term effects of sunburn include premature photoaging, wrinkles, and even cancerous changes to the skin cells.

sun_shelterThe first step in the treatment of sunburn is: get out of the sun.  Just like you might do with any other type of burn, you need to get the affected skin away from the source of the heat.  In this case, ultraviolet radiation is that source of heat.

The second step is to cool off the skin.  Removing the heat caused by the ultraviolet rays can limit ongoing damage and jump-start the healing process.

Something as simple as applying cool compresses or taking a cool bath or shower can decrease pain and swelling quickly.  It is best not to use ice, as changing the skin from extremely hot to extremely cold too fast can itself cause damage.

The third step is to rehydrate your body.  The swelling associated with sunburns happens because of fluid being drawn to the burned area from within the body.  Increased hydration will also help the surrounding skin from being more susceptible to damage.

ibuprofenFor pain associated with sunburns, generally anti-inflammatory medications are better than general, over-the-counter pain reducers such as acetominophen or Tylenol.  These NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naprosyn, decrease the inflammatory response to the ultraviolet and heat damage and speed up the healing response.

If you want to apply something directly on your skin to make it feel better, choose light lotions or gels, not oily creams or butters.  Aloe-based products can be very soothing.  Our latest product addition, Alverin Colloidal Silver spray, combines several ingredients to cool and soothe the skin after sunburn or other irritations.

I know that the summer is sadly waning, but sunburn still remains a danger.  Wear your sunscreen as always, but remember these pointers in case a sunburn does occur.

About Dr. John Burke

John Burke M.D. has practiced medicine for over 25 years, and is the founding partner of MidMaine Internal Medicine. He established Maine Laser Skin Care in 2004 after devoting years to learning the latest in laser and dermatologic technology. Dr. Burke has treated patients from all over the United States. He is one of Maine's busiest practitioners in laser treatments, and in the use of Botox for upper facial lines and excessive sweating.
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