Most of us enjoy a sunny day at the beach, by the pool, or out on the water. Three or four hours later, though, we may pay a price for our playtime.
Imagine you have just spent a day this way. Suddenly, you realize that you skin feels hot and tight, your body feels stiff, and you appear to be glowing. Wow! What a terrible sunburn!
Of course, the best treatment for sunburn (and skin cancer) is pre-treatment – to guard skin against the sun’s harmful rays. Wearing loose-cotton protective clothing, spending time in the shade, and applying sunscreen products can all help to shield your skin from sunburn.
Basically, sunscreen lotions protect the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. UVB rays are generally considered to be the most dangerous for sunburns, prematurely aging skin, and potential skin cancer. (Melanoma, a form of skin cancer, is currently the third most prevalent cancer in the United States.)
How Do Sunscreen Products Work?
All sunscreen lotions carry a Sun Protection Factor (SPF rating). This indicates the level of protection each product provides users from the UVB rays. By using higher-rated products (carrying higher SPF numbers), sunbathers and outdoor enthusiasts can safely remain longer in the sun.
Basically, the math works out this way. Let’s suppose you can usually stay out in the sun for 15 minutes before your skin begins to burn. If you use an SPF 15 sunscreen product, then you ought to be safe in the sun for 225 minutes. If you use an SPF 30, then you should be OK for 450 minutes.
Know Your Own Risk
You need to know your own skin’s susceptibility to sunburn and how long you are generally burn-free when you have used no sunscreen protection. Take that time frame, and multiply it by the SPF factor of the product you select to determine your window of opportunity for safe sunning.
Fair-skinned people who tend to freckle and burn quickly in the sun will probably want to choose a higher SPF than those with darker skin. Most doctors recommend at least an SPF 15 for nearly everyone.
If you are not sure, you would be wise to consult a physician. Also, if you are taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, you will want to read labels carefully. Many medicines can make you more vulnerable to sunburn.
Even if you use a waterproof sunscreen, you will need to reapply it after swimming or sweating. This does not extend the duration of protection, but it does guard your skin during the safe period, and it will ensure more consistent skin coverage.
A Myriad of Choices
Countless product choices are available. Visit the store, and you will find aisles of sunscreen products (even in the winter). Prices range from $5 to $10 for brand-name lotions to nearly $200 for designer skin-protection creams.
Many people prefer PABA-free products. PABA stands for Para-Amino Benzoic Acid, which is a suspected carcinogen. Even so, many adult sunscreen lotions contain it. (Isn’t that ironic? Your sunscreen might actually cause cancer!)
Sunscreens formulated specifically for babies and children are PABA-free. They are generally gentler, and they should not sting eyes. Baby sun-block is available in SPF 15, SPF 30, and even SPF 45. Adults may certainly use these products as well.
My Family’s Favorite
When my children were born, I dutifully purchased baby sun-block products and slathered them on my wriggling children. Honestly, the best product was a bargain brand, NO-AD Baby Sun-block. A big bottle is about $6.50. It’s waterproof, it keeps your skin soft, and it doesn’t sting your eyes. (That’s important for swimming – or sweating in the sun!).
This product comes in either a tube (great for travel) or a big bottle. Both are easy to use, unlike many sun-lotion bottles with their stiff sides and tiny openings! You really CAN use all of the product in the container.
We always have a big jug of NO-AD Baby Sun-block on hand. Also, I keep one of those chapstick-like sticks of baby sun-block in my bag – just in case we suddenly have a chance to get outside on a nice day!
What If You Do Burn?
First, moisturize like there’s no tomorrow. This soothes the pain and prevents peeling. Aloe Vera cream or gel offers the most comfort. Do not use butter, grease, or oil-based products on a sunburn, as these will seal the heat and cause it to continue to burn.
Cold compresses help a lot. An ice-pack, a cold washcloth, or even a bag of frozen peas can turn off the heat and provide comfort.
A cool bath, shower, or swim can offer some relief. Avoid soap, as it can dry the tender skin. Adding baking soda to bathwater may help.
Over-the-counter pain relief medications, particularly anti-inflammatory products, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can relieve some of the pain of sunburn.
Drinking lots of water helps to cool the entire body, and rehydration helps skin repair itself.
If your skin begins to blister, seek medical attention. Do not cover or wrap the blisters.
Before you head for the sunshine again, you will likely want to stock up on sun protection.
With a few simple precautions, you can have fun in the sun without becoming overdone! Save the charring for the beach-side barbecue!