/ Guide To Understanding Sunburn

Guide To Understanding Sunburn

Jul 07, 2013

What is Sunburn?

Sunburn is literally burnt skin caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation. Sunburn doesn’t discriminate between gender or skin colour. And although those with fair skin burn easier, everyone is susceptible.

Characterized by reddening and inflammation, sunburn develops on UVR-exposed skin within 30 minutes to eight hours of exposure. UV rays reflect off surfaces like sand, snow and water and can pass through clouds and windows. Indirect exposure can cause sunburn as well.

How is Sunburn Caused?

Most sunburn is caused by exposure to UVB radiation, one of the two types of UV radiation. This type of sunburn diminishes within a few hours to several days. Sunburn caused by UVA radiation is a deeper red and usually persists longer than a UVB sunburn. More aggressive sunburn can cause swelling and blistering, which can lead to more severe symptoms like chills and malaise. Generally, itchiness and flaking or peeling of the skin follow a UVA sunburn for days or weeks after exposure.

How Do You Treat Sunburn?

Once sunburn has occurred, treatment becomes symptomatic. There’s no reversing the damage, but there are steps you can take to alleviate the symptoms.

  • Increase your fluid intake to stay hydrated.
  • Use lotions and creams to restore moisture to your skin.
  • Apply aloe vera gel, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce burning and itching.
  • Take anti-inflammatory medications, like Advil, as needed.

How Do You Avoid Sunburn?

Sun avoidance is the best way to avoid sunburn. By taking precautions, you can avoid putting yourself at unnecessary risk. Behaviour, clothing and sunscreen are all critical factors in preventing sunburn while still enjoying the outdoors.

  • Stay in the shade and try to avoid going out in the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Wear protective clothing like broad-brimmed hats, sunglasses and loose, long-sleeved shirts and pants. UVR-protective clothing is also readily available.
  • Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of at least 45.

How Does SPF Work?

SPF, or sun protection factor, measures the length of time a product protects against skin reddening from UVB exposure compared to how long it takes the skin to redden without protection. For example, after properly applying a product with an SPF of 50, it will take 50 times as much time in the sun to reach the same level of redness as someone without protection. The biggest challenge we face, however, is that most users apply about one-fifth the amount of sunscreen needed. Remember, covering your whole body requires approximately two tablespoons of sunscreen.

Why Use Protection?

A Skin Cancer Foundation survey found that 42 per cent of people polled get sunburn at least once a year. One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double your chances of developing melanoma later in life. Melanoma is correlated with intermittent sunburns. Your risk of melanoma doubles if you’ve had five or more sunburns. Non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with chronic sun exposure.

The bottom line is that sunburns are avoidable and put you at risk for developing skin cancer. By implementing a few critical behaviour changes, you can enjoy the outdoors and the sun without harming yourself.

Dr. Davindra Singh is lead dermatologist and president of AvantDerm, www.avantderm.ca, a full-service dermatology clinic located in Toronto’s historic Distillery District. This modern, custom-designed facility is home to the first Ethnic Skin Institute in Canada and the city’s first Rapid Access Clinic.


Dr. Davindra Singh


Dr. Davindra Singh, is the lead dermatologist and founder of AvantDerm, a dermatology clinic based in Toronto, Canada. As our Beauty Rx expert, Dr. Singh sheds light on the all important, while clearing up various misconceptions of the world of dermatology with a special focus being the South...


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