Summer has finally arrived and with it comes fun in the sun and the not-so-fun sunburns after all that time spent outdoors. But these sunburns are just temporary nuisances, and once the redness goes away there’s nothing left to worry about, right? Actually, the immediate discomfort is one of the least concerning issues when someone is sunburnt. People who spend too much time in the sun without taking proper precautions risk mild to severe burns, premature aging skin, as well as up to tripling their chances of developing skin cancer later on in life.
The Stages of the Sunburn
There are several stages of a sunburn, and the best thing you can do is moderate the amount of time spent in the sun before any of these stages are reached. The first stage has been reached when your skin turns a golden brown, the tan so many people desperately long for, the problem with this tan is that it is an indicator that mild skin cell damage has occurred. The next stage comes when your skin turns red, sensitive, and swells up. This redness and pain are the body’s natural response the mutated cells caused by the sun’s harmful UV rays. And at the final stage of a sunburn, the skin will develop blisters filled with fluid; the pain can be severe and seeking medical attention is highly advised. The more time spent in the sun after signs of a burn is present, the more cell damage will occur. However, unlike the redness that will soon go away, there is also more permanent skin damage that may occur with a sunburn.
When exposed to the sun, the body’s initial line of defense is to absorb the sun’s UV rays through the use of melanin. A sunburn is developed once the number of UV rays making contact with the skin exceeds the maximum protection offered by melanin. Repeated sunburns over one’s life can lead to age spots, freckles, leathery skin, dry red patches, fine lines, and wrinkles. And contrary to popular belief, tanning beds do not cause less harm to your skin that the sun will. Tanning beds emit the same UVA and UVB rays that are found in sunlight. Which means they will also not reduce your chances of developing skin cancer later in life.
The long term effects
Skin cancer is by far the most alarming problem that can develop after excessive exposure to the sun. According to the AAD, just one blistering sunburn during childhood can more than double the child’s chances of developing melanoma, one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer, later in life. They also claim that receiving five or more blistering sunburns up to the age of 20 years old can increase one’s risk of developing melanoma by 80 percent and nonmelanoma skin cancer by 68 percent.
Bearing these risks in mind, it is important to take the necessary precautions to limit the chances of ever suffering from them. The best ways to do this are to avoid excessive exposure to the sun during peak hours (between 10 a.m and 4 p.m), wear a hat and glasses when spending time outside, use sunscreen regularly, reapply sunscreen every two hours while outdoors, and NEVER use tanning beds. It is also critical that parents protect their growing children from the dangers of being in the sun unprotected. Never suffering from a sunburn will greatly reduce your chances of ever developing potentially life threatening skin cancer later in life. And taking these precautions will keep you as safe as possible while still enjoying your fun in the sun.