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Preventing Accidental Sunburn

Posted by Ethanngo1636781 on 27 Jun, 2016

On a beautiful, sunny day, there's nothing more pleasant than enjoying a day at the beach, a picnic in the park or just puttering in the garden. But, in the joy of the moment, it's common to forget the importance of protecting your skin from exposure to the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Remembering this step will help reduce the potential risk of skin cancer, as well as prevent the accelerated aging of the skin. While many believe that the few moments used to apply sunscreen before the fun begins is sufficient, unfortunately, it's not always that straightforward.

Even when someone makes an effort to protect their skin from overexposure to solar radiation, it's not uncommon for something to go wrong. Many people have had an unexpected sunburn sneak up on them, with all of the discomfort that attends it. More than just a red, painful sunburn with peeling skin is at stake, however: The powerful UV rays from the sun can also have long-term health effects. Continued exposure to UV radiation reduces levels of vitamin A in the body, which diminishes the ability to fight infection. The thick, scaly or crusty patches of skin, called actinic keratosis, is caused by UV exposure and is a pre-cancerous condition that affects more than 58 million Americans.

The high-energy UVB bandwidth of ultraviolet radiation is responsible for reddening of the skin (erythema) and can cause direct damage to DNA. The UVA wavelengths, which penetrate deeply into skin tissues, damage the supporting collagen and elastin cell structure, causing skin to lose its tone and results in lines, wrinkles and sagging skin. This band of wavelengths also causes highly reactive chemical changes, resulting in the production of hydroxyl and oxygen radicals that can lead to cancer. More than 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation; more than 2 million people diagnosed with skin cancer each year – a number greater than all breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer cases combined.

Overexposure to the sun can easily sneak up on people, even when they try to take precautions. In a recent survey, more than half of all adults in the United States reported at least one episode of sunburn in the previous 12 months. The causes of these accidental sunburns can be attributed to one or more of these common mistakes:


It doesn't take a hot day with the sun beating down from a relentlessly cloudless sky to cause a sunburn. More than 80% of the sun's UV rays reach the earth's surface even during an overcast day. Meanwhile, approximately 85% of UV rays are reflected back up from the surface of water and light-colored ground cover as sand, snow and concrete.


Sunscreen is rated with a number called the skin protection factor (SPF), which measures the length of time it will protect against sunburn. Misunderstanding how the ratings are derived can result in under-use of sunscreen, in some cases. Also, the use of broad-band sunscreen, which filters both UVA and UVB wavelengths, is sometimes neglected; to be effective, the entire range of the UV bands should be covered. Also, some people simply do not apply enough sunscreen; directions for the amount to be used are always provided on the packaging.


Working or playing in the sun can cause the amount of sunscreen on the skin to be reduced. Perspiration and contact with water – everything from swimming to water gun fights – can wash sunscreen off the skin. Water-resistant sunscreen isn't a simple solution: No brand claims to be waterproof as that statement is prohibited by the FDA. Of course, rubbing the skin can remove sunscreen. Actions ranging from drying off with a towel after swimming, taking a shirt or other covering off or on, the rub of a scarf against the back of the neck or just wiping a sweaty brow can all remove the protective layer of sunscreen. Even if an individual is careful to avoid any of those actions, sunscreen will begin to lose its effectiveness after a period of time as its protective ingredients react with the UV radiation. Reading the label and renewing sunscreen at appropriate times are the most effective ways to maintain the protection offered by any sunscreen.


It's easy to forget to cover an area of skin that can be exposed to the sun at some point. There are just some places that can be overlooked when getting ready to enjoy some time in the sun.

With that last point in mind, it's a good idea to take special effort to remember some of the most often overlooked areas of the body. Make sure that the following spots get covered with sunscreen or otherwise protected from the powerful UV rays of the sun:

  1. Top of the ears – Most people don't notice the tops of their ears, even when looking in the mirror. Unfortunately, out of sight all too often means out of mind. Since the skin covering ear tops is particularly thin, lack of protection can quickly result in a bad sunburn and even long-term damage. Don't depend on long hair to provide cover. If possible, wear a hat – not just a hat, but a wide-brimmed hat – to shade them from direct exposure. The highest level SPF of broad band sunscreen should be used; even zinc oxide or aluminum oxide can be used.
  2. Scalp – Many people are concerned about sun-bleached hair, but the skin at the base of the hair is also in danger of damage. Don't depend on the protection of hair, either; men (and women, too) can have thinning hair without realizing it. Don't forget the places where hair is parted. Even the thickest hair, however, doesn't provide enough protection. Worse, the melanin (the natural pigment that gives both skin and hair their color) in the hair follicles actually absorb UV rays and can quickly cause damage. Hats are the best solution, but individuals who can't or won't wear one at all times (even on overcast days, remember!) can use a lotion or mousse with a high SPF.
  3. Lips – Technically, lips are not covered with skin. The tissue does not have sweat glands and only has three to five cells in thickness (one third that of body skin). Not only can they be more easily damaged by UV exposure, but, they are subjected to other mechanisms that can compound sunburns. Acidic, alcoholic and spicy food and drink can cause additional damage. Further, saliva contains enzymes that helps to begin to digest food even as it is being eaten; when a person licks his lips, as often happens during hot and sunny days, saliva can damage the lips. Use lip balm with a sunscreen component and remember to refresh the coverage at intervals.
  4. Upper chest – Called the décolletage in French, the area from the top of the breasts to the base of the neck is deserving of protection, which not only means an initial coverage with sunscreen but re-application when perspiration and simply the passage of time reduces the effectiveness of the protection.
  5. Back of the neck and upper back. The actual reddening of the neck from overexposure to UV radiation can be painful and dangerous. Both under-application of sunscreen (it's difficult for a person to reach the area between his own shoulder blades) and loss of sunscreen through perspiration make this area susceptible to sunburn. Added to that is the fact that the region is most frequently exposed to the sun: Whether laying face-down on a beach towel or sitting on a park bench or picnic table, the back of the neck and the middle of the upper back get a lot of sun time. Sunscreens formulated to be used in spray bottles are particularly useful in covering and protecting this area.

Enjoy warm, sunny days – even the not-so-sunny ones – with a trip to the beach, an old-fashioned picnic or a pick-up ball game. Just remember to keep skin protected from the harsh effects of UV radiation from the sun, even those places that are hard to reach or easy to overlook.

If the sun creeps up on you or your loved one and your skin is compromised with a burn, over-the-counter treatments can be effective in reducing the discomfort. Cool showers and the application of aloe vera or chamomile can help with the pain. Also, Tylenol, Aleve, Advil or Aspirin can help with the stinging and reduce the fever caused by a sunburn. Be sure and speak with a healthcare provider before selecting a non-prescription medication.

If a severe burn occurs, Urgent Clinics Medical Care is here to help you get back to enjoying the summer fun. Our clinics are open from 8 am to 9 pm and are conveniently located in Champions Forest, The Woodlands and 3 locations in League City: Creekside, Marina Bay and Tuscan Lakes. Our Pearland Clinic is open 8 am to midnight. We offer friendly, experienced and licensed medical professionals ready to help you and your family get back to experiencing the life you love.


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