Sunburn refers to the overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation that causes the living tissue such as the skin to scald. Milder exposure to UV rays leads to suntan wherein the skin becomes darker in color. Sunburn can be life threatening as more than 90% of skin cancers are caused by sun exposure. Severe sunburns require medical attention whereas mild cases of sunburns can be treated at home.

Causes and Risk Factors

Ultraviolet radiation penetrates deep within the skin surface and changes its outward appearance and the structure of the cells. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, it produces a pigment called melanin to shield itself against the harsh ultraviolet light. This causes the skin to become darker, and this result is referred to as a suntan. Tanning may prevent you from suffering from sunburn very easily but it does not protect you from other harmful effects of UV radiation such as premature aging and cancer.

There is a direct relationship between the amount of melanin that an individual’s skin contains and the amount of protection that the individual has against the effects of UV light. Individuals who have lighter skin tones have less melanin, so they are more likely to develop sunburn quickly. Individuals who do not spend much time outdoors are also at risk of developing sunburn when they do go in the sun. Sunburn does not necessarily occur exclusively at the beach or during the summer; sunlight that is reflected off of the snow can also cause sunburn. A breeze, cloudy sky, or swim may make you feel cooler in the sun, but the sunlight is still potent enough to damage your skin at these times.

The risk of sunburn increases in tropical regions (the geographic region of the earth centered on the equator and limited in latitude by the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere and the Tropic of Capricorn in the southern hemisphere). Chronic exposure to the sun and repeated sunburns increase the individual’s risk of developing skin cancer.

Symptoms of Sunburn

The primary symptom of sunburn is the transformation of the skin into a bright pink, red, or brown color. Other symptoms of sunburn are inflammation and irritation of the skin, the skin feeling warm or burning sensation on the skin, fever, feeling cold, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, swelling accompanied by formation of fluid-filled blisters, and peeling of skin.

Symptoms of sunburn may develop after two to four hours of extreme sun exposure, and it may increase in severity with the passage of time.

Preventing Sunburn :

Preventing the development of sunburn is highly recommended and desirable. The following measures should be taken to help to prevent sunburn:
Apply sunblock lotion or sunscreen to exposed areas of the body before you set out in the sun. Do not ignore your ears, nose, lips, and toes. Reapply sunscreen after heavy perspiration or after swimming.
Wear protective clothing that covers most of your body parts when outdoors. However, if wearing shorts, tank tops or swimsuits, remember to apply sunscreen lotion to the exposed skin.
Choose sun care products that have SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 15 or more.
Wear a broad-brimmed hat to protect your hair and face.
Avoid staying out in the sun for long hours. Stay indoors, especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun emits its maximum UV radiation.

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