Preventing Sunburn: Is Sunscreen Enough?

by | Jun 12, 2023 | Blog

A bad sunburn is much more than just red, painful skin that peels after a few days. Sunburn is an inflammatory reaction to too much sun exposure. And while many people think bathing in milk or slathering their skin with an after-sun lotion will take care of a sunburn, the risk of skin melanomas and carcinomas should be more than enough reason to avoid excessive sun exposure.

In 2023, the National Cancer Institute predicts nearly 100,000 melanoma diagnoses, leading to almost 8,000 related deaths. Moreover, in the US, over 4 million people require treatment for basal and squamous cell carcinoma annually.

Important Facts About Sunburn

Infrequent Sunburns Are Risky

Everyone loves a great tan. But what happens when the tan fades? Not only do you want to tan again, but you’ve already done irreversible damage to your skin. One sunburn increases the risk of developing melanoma. Getting sunburned only once every two years raises the risk of melanoma threefold.

Certain Skin Types Are More Susceptible to Sunburn

People with fair skin have the highest risk of severe sunburn, even if they are in the sun for only a few minutes. At the same time, people with dark skin that never reddens in the sun can still suffer cellular damage that may cause cancer.

Overcast Doesn’t Mean Zero Sunburn

You don’t want to lie on the beach or tan in the backyard all day, even when it’s overcast. When you can’t see the sun, up to 80% of its rays can still reach your skin.

There Is No Such Thing as a Mild Sunburn

If you have fair skin that turns a shade of pink in the sun instead of an angry red, it doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook concerning the risk of skin cancer. It doesn’t matter whether your sunburn is mild or severe; it will increase the risk of melanoma either way.

If you’re an active person who loves the outdoors, your risk of sunburn is already high. If you are repeatedly sunburned, the damage to your skin will build up over time, increasing the risk of cancer as the years pass.

The only way to minimize the possibility of getting skin cancer is to practice sun safety at all times.

Can Sunscreen Alone Prevent Sunburn?

Sunscreen is helpful in deflecting harmful sun rays, but you shouldn’t rely on sunscreen alone to protect your skin. Along with sunscreen that contains SPF 30 or higher, you should do the following to lower your risk of sunburn:

Wear Sun-Protective Clothing

Sun-protective clothing provides an effective barrier against UV rays because it contains an ultraviolet protection factor. UPF clothing must have a 30 UPF rating to receive a recommendation from the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Try to Avoid Sun Exposure in the Late Morning and Early Afternoon

Stay indoors and avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., as this is when the sun burns the brightest, and its rays are most damaging.

Apply Sunscreen to All Exposed Skin

If you’re going to the beach on a sunny day or planning to walk around the city while it’s overcast, you should smear sunscreen on all exposed skin. Apply the lotion or spray to your face, neck, arms, hands, legs, and feet.

You should reapply the sunscreen every two hours if you’re going swimming. Wear a hat whenever possible to protect your scalp and sunglasses to keep the sun out of your eyes.

The Bottom Line

In addition to raising the risk of skin cancer, too much sun exposure causes age spots, wrinkles, and sagging skin. For broad-spectrum skin protection, it is best to consult your dermatologist to find the best options for your skin type. For more information, contact Complete Family Dermatology at (402) 423-1111.

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