How To Treat Sunburn |

How To Treat Sunburn

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We all know the dangers of the sun, but even with the best intentions, overexposure happens. To find out the impact sunburn has on your health, how much sun cream you really need and some quick-fix solutions for soothing skin, we spoke with Dr Sajjad Rajpar, Consultant Dermatologist at Belgravia Dermatology...

What exactly is sunburn?

It’s a sign that large-scale DNA damage has occurred in your skin. UV rays cause mutations deep within the skin’s cells, so much so they can’t function; this then triggers the cells to shut down, which in turn triggers an inflammatory reaction, i.e. the point at which you see sunburn. When you peel days later, your body is shedding damaged cells. While this may sound scary, your body's doing you a favour by letting damaged cells die – if they were to live, they could become cancerous. However, sometimes the odd damaged cell survives, explaining why sunburn may lead to skin cancer.

How long does sunburn take to show on the skin?

The redness from sunburn usually starts to show within four to six hours and peaks at 24 hours – more severe sunburn may start to show within two hours. It can be very painful and in extreme cases you might even experience swelling and blistering.

Does SPF protect you from sunburn?

An SPF rating refers to the number of times longer the product will protect you from sunburn. So, if it usually takes you ten minutes to burn with no sun cream, applying a product with factor 50 would increase this 50 times, and it would take 500 minutes to burn. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 97% of rays and SPF 50 98%, but our slapdash application means we’re not always as protected as we think, so always go for as high an SPF as possible to be on the safe side.

So how much sun cream should we be using?

People usually apply 25-50% less than is required, which explains why so many of us burn. You need a quarter teaspoon (1.25ml) to cover the face, 2 teaspoons (12 ml) to cover the face, neck and arms and 2 tablespoons (35mls) to cover the entire body per application. Remember to reapply every three hours as sweat can cause it to break down.

On a Similar Note

How best to treat sunburn?

In the first few hours, a prescription steroid cream can help reduce the pain and redness to a degree; and regular application of a light moisturiser – try Nivea, Aveeno or Simple – can also help over the following days. Remember to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, and if you’re in a lot of pain, paracetamol and ibuprofen can help.

How long does sunburn take to heal?

This depends on the severity but it should settle, by and large, within three to five days – although really intense burning may take a week or slightly longer.

Can tanning supplements help support skin during sun exposure?

No – tanning supplements, which contain vitamins and antioxidants, have not been shown to reduce the DNA damage induced by UV radiation. And there’s no evidence to suggest they can reduce the likelihood of sunburn or the risk of skin cancer.

The bottom line?

Obviously, prevention is far better than cure, as once you burn the DNA damage has already occurred and there’s no way to reverse it. Five or more instances of sunburn can increase your risk of melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – by 80%, so think twice before you step out into the sun.
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