When Alexis, 23, first noticed a sudden redness on her back area after a day at the beach with her friends, she didn’t think it was serious. For the first time in her life, she also decided to postpone her shower and FaceTime with her boyfriend in Canada instead. A few hours later, the pain started.
“It felt like a burning sensation deep inside my skin”, she remembers. “My whole back and lower body felt like it was on fire!”
The redness had also increased, and her skin felt prickly to the touch. Panicky and unsure of what to do for relief, Alexis searched the internet for help. Thankfully, she got the information she needed to understand that she was having sunburn.
This only confused Alexis further.
I didn’t understand how I could have gotten sunburn hours after exiting the sun! At the time, that’s what filled up my mind. – She says.
For Jess, 45, her first case of sun burn came in the summer of 2014. She was also taken by surprise, considering that she spent her day touring at a local zoo instead of sleeping out in the sun.
She says of her ordeal, “I always knew that only people that slept out in the sun, such as those on beaches, could get sun burn.”
It failed to make sense for me how the sun could have bunt me through my clothes on a trip to the zoo! – She adds.
In every possible way, Jess was to blame. Because it was a simple outing to the local zoo, Jess decided to forego sunscreen. She also chose to wear tight jeans and a white blouse (perfect for reflecting off sunlight, she thought) that left her shoulders exposed completely.
When she got back home three hours later, Jess realised that her shoulder area was red and swollen, with a rash like development that felt painful to touch. An hour later, blisters started to form. Jess was mortified.
“I called my doctor and screamed into the phone like he was to blame.” she remembers. “I didn’t know what to do!”
Jess’s clothing had exposed her skin to the hot summer sun for longer than it should have, and without sunscreen. The result was sun poisoning and extreme pain.
If you’ve been in either Jess or Alexis’s situation, you know how painful sun burn and sun poisoning can be. Thousands of men and women suffer from the effects of the sun on their skins in the United States every year.
Even with tons of information about how to minimize the sun’s effect on the skin now available on the internet, people still step into the sun unprotected. This doesn’t have to happen to you.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Sunburn?
- 2 Sun Poisoning
- 3 Home Remedies for Sunburn and Sun Poisoning
- 4 How to Avoid Sunburn and Sun Poisoning
- 5 All About Sunscreen
- 6 Who Can Use Sunscreen?
- 7 So, What Is the Best Sunscreen to Buy?
- 8 When to Apply Sunscreen?
- 9 How to Use Sunscreen for Best Effect
- 10 Common Sunscreen Mistakes to Avoid
- 11 Frequently Asked Questions about Sunscreen
- 12 Before You Go!
What is Sunburn?
Sunburn is a skin condition that occurs after extreme exposure to the sun. It is caused by continued contact of the sun’s UV radiation with the skin. Sunburn may be minor, mild or severe depending on the length of duration of exposure.
The common symptoms to look out for include redness, pain and occasional inflammation of the skin from increased sun exposure.
Extreme exposure to the sun without protection is dangerous for the skin because of the sun’s UV rays, which penetrate the skin and cause a number of negative effects.
Understanding UV and the Sun’s Effect on the Skin
Ultra Violet (UV) rays are released by the sun as it shines from the sky. According to the scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia, the sun emits three different types of UV rays – the UVA, UVB and UVC types of rays.
UVA rays are particularly responsible for triggering premature aging and wrinkle formation, while UVB rays have been found to burn the skin. Ultra violet rays cause trouble by damaging the cells within the skin as they go through their division process, damaging their DNA in the process.
This action results in various skin cancers over time, including squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and more.
So, to Tan or not to Tan?
Tanning is the reason why beaches fill up in the summer and tanning salons get booked full every month. The bronze-y look that comes from tanning has been popularized as sexy by celebrities and trendy by tabloid magazines. But it does have its negative parts. So, to tan or not to tan?
Our recommendation: Tanning is okay, as long as you protect your body with a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.
To get a tan, you have to expose your body to the sun or a tanning bed/lamp. The dangerous UV rays from all three then get access to your body, resulting in premature aging, burning, and wrinkling.
A good sunscreen will be able to ward off at least 90% of the dangerous rays, allowing you to get a tan without damaging your skin.
Signs and Symptoms of Sunburn
- Minor sunburn may come with just a little redness all over the exposed skin.
- Mild sunburn is usually associated with nausea, fever, chills and bodily weakness in addition to redness and burning of the skin.
- Extreme sunburn, as the name suggests, comes with harsher symptoms such as fainting, dizziness, dips in blood pressure, extreme redness, blistering and skin peeling.
- The effects of sunburn on the skin usually become visible after a few hours after exposure to the sun. (2-4 hours). That’s when the pain usually starts too.
Treatment for sunburn is recommended immediately after you notice the signs on your skin.
Cold compresses are the first form of relief you can use. Make one by wetting a small towel/cloth with cold water. Apply it on your burnt/red areas for some time to cool the heat. A cold bath is another option you can use.
For the inflammations or blisters that may form, NSAIDs such as ibuprofen are an effective choice. They can also be accessed over the counter from your nearest pharmacy. Cortisone creams can also be applied for relieving inflammations.
Sunburn usually makes the skin more sensitive, so you might feel prickly and itchy all over. A good cream comprised of menthol or Aloe Vera is the perfect remedy for this. It’s applied topically all-over the burnt area to calm the stings and itches.
If your skin is dry, flaky or peeling as a result of the sunburn, a good moisturizer should set it right again. Consider moisturizers or lotions comprised of aloe Vera for this.
Drink more water. Sunburn drains water from your body, leaving you dehydrated and feeling weak. Once you notice the signs of sunburn, you need to drink more water immediately to prevent further dehydration.
When to See a Doctor
- If you notice blisters developing on the burnt area of the body. This may occur before or after applying a cold compress to the burnt area. See a doctor for treatment advice.
- If the blisters start to bubble
- If your skin tears (or the blisters break)
- If the sunburn turns purple.
- If you start feeling dizzy or nauseous
- If you faint and feel weak
- If you get a high fever
- If you start feeling extreme pain
Sunburn: The highlights to Note
- You can get sunburn within 15 minutes or less of exposure, depending on the strength of the sun you’re exposed to.
- You may not realize you have sunburn until you leave the sun for a few hours.
- People with fairer skin and certain pigment disorders are more at risk of sunburn than darker skinned types.
- Sunburn is one of the major causes of certain forms of skin cancer including melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.
Also known as photo dermatitis, sun poisoning is a severe form of sunburn characterised by rashes, hives and blisters on the skin. Even though the symptoms of sun poisoning are similar to those of sun burn, it’s a different condition altogether.
Sun poisoning is more commonly identified by the rashes that it causes on different parts of the body including the thighs, the legs, the neck, the chest, the feet and the upper side of the hands.
Sun poisoning is caused by extended exposure to sunlight, just like sun burn. The sun’s UV rays penetrate the skin, damaging its cells and resulting in redness, inflammation, and pain.
You are at a higher risk of sun poisoning if;
- You’re taking medications that increase photosensitivity (sensitivity to light) such as antibiotics and oral medications such as doxycycline and minocycline. Some acne medications such as Accutane (isotretinoin) also increase the sensitivity of skin to sunlight.
- If you are predisposed to sun burn courtesy of genetic factors such as fair skin, sun allergies etc.
- If you have skin pigment disorders
- If you have a bodily disease that increases your sensitivity to light such as lupus
How to Know It’s Sun Poisoning
The symptoms of sun poisoning are easily confused for those associated with sun burn. It’s important to have a clear understanding of the two to identify the condition faster and get proper medication.
You can know it’s sun poisoning when you see or feel the following.
- Sudden onset of flu
- A rash like feature on the parts of your body that were exposed
- Dizziness (because of dehydration from too much sun)
- Itchy, prickly or stingy skin
- Feeling feverish
The Difference between Sun Poisoning and Sunburn
It’s not unusual for people with sun poisoning to confuse it with sunburn. Many people think sun poisoning is just a worse version of sun burn, while others believe it’s an actual form of poisoning. Neither is correct.
The main difference between the two, however, is that while sunburn results directly from being burnt by too much sun, sun poisoning is more of an allergic reaction by the body to extreme sunlight.
While sun burn is easily identifiable by the redness that occurs, sun poisoning is identified by the rash like features that develop on the skin in addition to the redness.
In people at higher risk, and unlike sunburn, sun poisoning can occur just minutes after they are exposed to the sun.
Because of its symptoms, sun poisoning is also commonly mistaken for a number of ailments including hives, eczema, shingles, food poisoning, bad sunburn, heat stroke and more.
Treating Sun Poisoning
Hydration is key. It’s important to drink more water when you see any sign of sun poisoning. Taking more water is necessary to prevent further dehydration, which can result in worse situations as fainting.
Apply no-fragrance moisturizers and lotions for peeling skin. Ensure that they have no fragrance before use.
Cold compresses are perfect remedies for cooling the heat from the sun. You can also take a bath instead.
See a dermatologist. With sun poisoning, the pain and symptoms can cause a great deal of discomfort. If you see something unusual on your skin and are not sure what to do, contact your dermatologist for more advice.
Home Remedies for Sunburn and Sun Poisoning
Just like any other disease or skin condition, sun burn and sun poisoning can also be treated with natural remedies to total healing. Consider some of the natural remedies listed below.
Oatmeal: Make an oatmeal bath and soak in it. It’s quite effective for itchy, prickly and stingy skin.
Cider vinegar: Use cider vinegar in bath water and soak in it. It balances the pH of the sun burned skin and accelerates the healing process.
Note: Prevention is better than cure. Despite having natural remedies at home that you can go back to, it’s best to protect yourself against sun burn and sun poisoning instead. Carry your sunscreen when stepping out and ensure to put it to full use.
How to Avoid Sunburn and Sun Poisoning
If you’ve always wanted to know how to get rid of sunburn and sun poisoning, experts will tell you that avoiding it is the best move. Quite frankly, it’s easier, cheaper (and less painful) to prevent the sun’s effect on the skin rather than to treat it.
Consider some of the tips below to effectively avoid sunburn and sun poisoning.
Limit Your Exposure to The Sun
Knowing only too well that too much exposure to the sun is what causes sun burn and sun poisoning, it’s only natural to limit that exposure if you want to avoid both conditions.
That calls for going out into the sun only when you need to. For people with fairer skin, this tip applies even more because they are more at risk of getting burnt than darker complexion types.
You might be thinking, “How about if I apply sunscreen before going out into the sun?”
The truth is that even with sunscreen, you can still get burnt by the sun if you stay out in it too long. It’s best to go out into the sun during the early morning, mainly for its natural Vitamin D properties.
Avoid losing track of time and sleeping off in the sun. This is one common cause of prolonged exposure to the sun.
There’s a reason it’s called sunscreen or sunblock. Sunscreen is designed to limit the penetration effect and ability of the sun’s UV rays into the body, which minimises sunburn and sun poisoning.
In order to ward off sun burn and sun poisoning,
Remember to reapply it every few hours to increase the protection for your skin. Sunscreens with higher SPF ratings are more recommended for use.
Avoid Stepping Out During the Sun’s Strongest Hours of You Can Avoid It
During this time, stronger UV light rays are released onto the earth and into people’s bodies.
The best way to avoid their effects is by avoiding the sun between those hours of the impact if you can.
Tip: Those hours of the day are also the hottest, so it might do you good to avoid them after all.
Use Shaded Areas to Avoid Direct Sunlight Impact
If you must step out and bask in the sun, consider going to shadier places instead of lying out in the sun.
Trees are perfect shades, as are patios, gazebos, and verandas.
Tip: You can also read a book, watch a movie comfortably or listen to your favourite audio under a shade without worrying about whether the sun is burning you or not.
Cover Up Well Before Stepping Out
Use clothing that covers your legs, shoulders, and arms before stepping out. Remember, sunburn can occur even when you’re just out taking an innocent walk.
Consider cotton clothes – they have an SPF rating of 4. SPF is a rating used to determine how protective something can be against the sun’s UV rays.
Wide brimmed hats are a good option, as are full arm blouses, maxi skirts, dresses, trousers and more. UV blocking sunglasses are also recommended for eye protection.
All About Sunscreen
You’ve heard about its purpose for the skin. You’ve probably been asked to wear it whenever you go out.
But what is sunscreen and how does it work?
Sunscreen is a solution made of protective materials that are applied on the skin before exposure to the sun. The sunscreen models on the market today tend to be sold in cream or spray form.
How Sunscreen Works
Like the name suggests, sunscreen adds a layer/screen of protection to bare skin to minimise how much of the sun’s dangerous UV rays get to penetrate it.
The active ingredients in sunscreen may be either chemical or physical, with the ones containing the latter being branded as physical sunscreens and the former being called chemical sunscreens.
Physical sunscreens contain zinc oxide and titanium oxide, both of which work by reflecting both UVB and UVA rays off the skin before they can penetrate inside.
Chemical sunscreens on the other hand, let the rays penetrate the skin, but then convert the radiation to heat and other forms of energy. They also work against both UVB and UVA rays.
Over the course of the day, physical sunscreens wear off while chemical sunscreens lose their protective ability. Consequently, experts recommend that you should reapply your sunscreen every few hours, and after swimming or sweating.
Chemical sunscreens are comprised of organic compounds as active, protective ingredients. They may include PABA (paraminobenzoic acid) and its derivatives, octocrylene, oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, salicylates and more.
Sunscreens may protect against UVA or UVB rays or both. Those that protect against both are known as broad spectrum sunscreens, and usually contain octylmethyl, sulisobenzone, dioxybenzone and salicylic compounds.
Waterproof Vs Water Resistant Sunscreen: Which Is Better?
If you’ve seen ‘waterproof’ on a sunscreen bottle, you should drop it and look somewhere else. Why?
Because it’s technically too old to be fit for use. The FDA stopped manufacturers from branding their sunscreens as ‘waterproof’, because, quite simply, no sunscreen is waterproof. This rule also applied to other common misleading terms at the time including ‘sun block’ and ‘sweat resistant’. The new realistic term used is ‘water resistant’, used to highlight the cream/spray’s ability to repel water for some time.
Why You Should Wear Sunscreen
Apart from preventing sunburn, there’s lots more reason as to why you should wear sunscreen.
- To control premature aging and wrinkle formation. The sun’s UV rays affect the nature of collagen and elastin, both of which are responsible for keeping our skins taut and young. The result? Wrinkles on skin and premature aging. This effect is particularly brought on by UVA rays.
- To prevent skin discoloration and formation of brown spots on skin
- To reduce the appearance of facial red veins and blotchiness.
Who Can Use Sunscreen?
Anyone about to be exposed to the sun should use sunscreen, with the exception of young babies (6 months or younger). Even though they may think it unnecessary, dark skinned people also need to use sunscreen before exposure to the sun.
Sunscreen for Pregnant Women
Because of the possible negative effect of chemical sunscreens to your unborn baby, pregnant women should use physical sun screens instead.
Sunscreen for Babies
There’s specific sunscreen designed for younger children in consideration of their tender skin and bodily reaction to chemicals. Look for bottles labelled ‘for babies’ when shopping for this sunscreen. Because their skin is sensitive, sunscreen for babies should not contain compounds such as PABA and oxybenzone.
Sunscreen for Adults
When it comes to adults, the choice of sunscreen depends more on the skin type in question. Considering that some sunscreens are water base while others are oil based, not all sunscreens may be used on every type of skin. For safety purposes, it’s important to identify the right sunscreens for your body first.
For Oily, Acne Prone Skin
Avoid any sunscreen that is oil based and contains oils such as mineral oils, lanolin etc. Chemical sunscreens containing PABA and oxybenzone should also be avoided. Those containing salicylates, alcohol and ecamsule are okay for oily skin, as are physical sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium oxide.
For Dry Skin
If your skin is prone to flaking or peeling because of dryness, you need an oil based sunscreen that can also act as a moisturizer. Oil based sunscreens commonly contain oils such as dimethicone and lanolin, and are usually sold as creams or lotions.
For Darker Skin
Any sunscreen can do for darker skin, whether it’s chemical or physical. Physical sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium oxide are commonly associated with a chalky white residue after application on darker skin though.
If you wish to skip that, consider using the new form of physical sunscreens that have their zinc oxide and titanium oxide broken down into nano particles that quickly disappear into the skin after application.
You can also consider sunscreen with bronzer, which is comprised of mineralized zinc oxide and titanium oxide and tinted to merge with your skin color on the application.
Sunscreen for Dogs
Sunburn affects dogs too, resulting in inflammation, redness, irritation, and pain. In extreme cases, the dog may lose hair and get scales on its skin. If your doggie has white hair or thin skin, it is more at risk of sun burn than its darker skinned/thick skinned counterparts.
How to apply?
Look for sunscreen designed specifically for dogs to avoid applying dangerous ingredients on their skins. If you cannot find any dog sunscreen brand in your pharmacy, you can use a baby sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher.
Still, ensure that the sunscreen you choose does not contain zinc oxide or paraaminobenzoic acid (PABA) because they are both toxic for dogs. To be sure of the sunscreen, apply it on a small section of the dog’s skin first and gauge its effect.
Apply the sunscreen on the ear tips, the nose, around the lips, the belly, the groin etc. Ensure that the dog doesn’t lick any of the sunscreen, especially the layer that you apply around the mouth.
So, What Is the Best Sunscreen to Buy?
Any sunscreen is okay to buy and use as long as it meets certain standards. We recommend that you consider the following before grabbing that sunscreen bottle off the shelf.
It Should Be Non Comedogenic
‘Non comedogenic’ is a term used to refer to products that do clog skin pores when applied to the skin. The last thing you need after a good day in the sun is a sunscreen that fills up your pores and triggers pimples, acne and pustules. To be sure, look for ‘non comedogenic’ on the bottle before buying.
Sunscreens containing oils such as lanolin and those that are perfumed should also be avoided, especially for people with acne prone skin.
It Should Be Broad Spectrum
You need a sunscreen that can protect you from both UVB and UVA sun rays. UVB rays burn the skin while UVA rays trigger aging and wrinkling. Sunscreens that keep out both types of UV rays are known as ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreens and labelled so on their bottles. Some sunscreens may be labelled as SPF/P+++ to signify their broad spectrum nature.
It Should Have an SPF 30 Or Higher
The sun protection factor (SPF) of a sunscreen brand marks its protective ability against the sun, with SPFs ranging from 2 to 75+. Sunscreens with SPF 15 are okay for babies and some adults, but we recommend that you look for an SPF 30 and above for more protection. If you are traveling to a country next to the Equator, look for and SPF 50 or more because the sun is much stronger over there.
It Should Not Be Expired
This is a no brainer, really. If the sunscreen has been on the shelf for the last two years, maybe it’s not the best option for your skin. Some stores tend to forget to remove expired products from shelves, putting buyers I heath trouble. Look at the manufacture date on each bottle and pick the one that appears newest on the shelf. If you find an expired one, RUN to the next shelf.
It Should Be Approved by the FDA
There’s lots of sunscreens being sold around the world today but not all of them are allowed in American stores for a reason. The FDA ensures that a product is fit for use before it gets onto the shelf, so it’s necessary to check and see if your sunscreen is FDA approved. If it’s not, ditch it immediately.
It Should Be Of a Known Brand
Buying known brands is the easiest way to buy safely especially if you’re in a hurry. These brands tend to have more customers than lesser known brands, in addition to sufficient information to back up their product. Popular brands we recommend (but are not limited to) include Clinique, L’Oréal, Neutrogena, La Roche Posay Anthelios, Aveeno and more.
Consider Former User Reviews
Nowadays, you don’t have to get trapped with lame purchases time after time. It’s smart to read former user reviews of particular products on consumer review websites, online retailer websites and more before making a purchase. That way, you will know what to expect and what to avoid.
Consider Your Skin and Purpose for Buying
If you use facial make up regularly, sunscreen can distort it completely when applied last. To keep the protection and still look flawless, consider buying a sunscreen that can also act as a moisturizer. Such sunscreens are usually applied first before the makeup, giving you both protection and beauty.
If you sweat a lot, swim a lot or take part in very taxing activities while in the sun, look for specially designed sunscreens that will stay longer on the skin to give you the protection you need. Look for sunscreens that fit your skin type too by checking the ingredients. Our skins are different, and so are the sunscreens that can work on them.
When to Apply Sunscreen?
It’s best to apply your sunscreen when heading out into the sun. For chemical sunscreens, it is important to apply them 30 mins before sun exposure to allow them to get absorbed into the skin.
You should also apply sunscreen even though you’re pregnant or nursing. Just make sure you use physical sunscreens and avoid the breast area if you’re nursing.
Sunscreens are also recommended if you’re going swimming, skiing or hiking. If you sleep next to a window that lets in sunlight, you should also apply sunscreen before sleeping during the day.
How to Use Sunscreen for Best Effect
Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after stepping out into the sun. The idea is to give your body a strong cover against sunlight before you step out. For chemical sunscreens, this is done to enable the body to absorb the sunscreen before exposure to sunlight.
Apply your sunscreen all-over the body, even for areas that aren’t directly exposed or bare. Remember, UV rays can seep through clothes (including blankets!) and get to the skin.
Reapply your sunscreen every two hours to boost its protective effect.
Use sunscreen as your foundation before make up. This is a smart idea that allows you to wear your make up the way you want it without being exposed to the sun’s dangerous rays too much.
Common Sunscreen Mistakes to Avoid
Applying to only some parts of the body. You might be applying sunscreen to only the face, the legs or the face only. This is wrong. Sunscreen has to be applied to every body part for more effect.
Applying only once. You might be the busiest person in New York, and that’s okay. But if you can’t find a few spare minutes to reapply sun screen all over your body on a hot day, your skin is going to suffer and the blame will be on you. Applying sunscreen only once at the start of the day isn’t enough. It’s important to rub it on again after a few hours for more protection.
Buying the highest rated SPF. The sun protection factor (SPF) on your sunscreen shows how much UV light is blocked from penetration your skin. While higher SPFs mean more protection, it doesn’t mean that there is much of a difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50. Here’s a sample to make you understand. An SPF 30 sunscreen will block up to 96% of all sun rays from getting into your skin.
An SPF 50? Only 2% more with 98%! See?
Failing to apply after sweating or swimming. If you think your sunscreen stays intact after swimming or sweating profusely, you’re wrong. The water washes it off, and you need to reapply some of that protective cream after. Applying only a thin layer of sunscreen. This is common for dark skinned people that want to avoid the chalky texture brought on by physical sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium oxide. The thinner the layer of sunscreen you apply, the more times you’ll have to apply again. Plus, thinner layers serve only half the purpose sunscreen is supposed to serve for your skin. Failing to wash it off. Yes, you must wash off sunscreen at the end of the day. Naturally, you may do that with a shower, but you still need to unblock your pores thoroughly especially if your sunscreen wasn’t non comedogenic.
Frequently Asked Questions about Sunscreen
Use CTRL+F (Win) or CMD+F (Mac) to search for topics, we have covered all the most commonly asked questions about sunscreen in these FAQs. If we missed something out, let us know via the comments section and we will keep updating this list.
Which sunscreen ingredients to avoid?
Oxybenzone mostly. It appears as an ingredient in many chemical sunscreens. Research suggests that oxybenzone may easily be absorbed into the blood stream when applied on the skin, resulting in hormonal disruptions and skin damage. If you can avoid it, please do. You should also watch out for some sunscreen ingredients depending on your skin type. Paraminobenzoic acid (PABA) is specifically not ideal for oily skins and children.
Is sunscreen in foundation reliable?
Can sunscreen cause cancer?
Can sunscreen affect the skin negatively?
How long do sunscreens last after application?
Can you get sunburn at a high altitude or on a cloudy day?
Are sunscreen sprays safe?
Before You Go!
Your summers don’t have to be marked by painful days of sun burn anymore. There’s sunscreen to keep you protected all day long and tips you can use to stay safe throughout the summer.
Here’s to a happy summer!