Sunburn Dangers Can Be Long-lasting

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The official start of summer is here, and many people have already started to head outside and catch some rays. Unfortunately, while a tan is associated with a healthy summer glow, it can actually cause long-term skin damage, and sunburns are even worse.

“All the time, we hear people say, ‘I get a burn, and then I tan the rest of the summer.’ Unfortunately, the cumulative effects of this behavior come with risks and long-term damage,” said Dr. Vincent Meoli, regional medical director of American Family Care. “While people are looking to enjoy some time in the sun in the short term, they are setting themselves up for dark spots, roughness, dryness, wrinkles, and, worst of all, skin cancer in the long run.”

Sunburns also come with unpleasant immediate effects, including redness, swelling, pain, tenderness, blisters, headache, fatigue, and nausea. These signs typically appear within the first few hours and can last several days. Skin peeling is common as the burn heals.

“A severe sunburn requires medical attention,” Meoli said. “If blisters form over a large area of your body or on your face or hands, if you experience severe swelling, if blisters show signs of infection, or if the burn doesn’t improve within a few days, you should see a doctor.”

He added that emergency medical care is required if a sunburn is accompanied by a fever above 103 degrees, confusion, dehydration, or fainting.

Sunburns can develop in about 15 minutes on unprotected, exposed skin. Meoli advises that people protect themselves by limiting their time in the sun and using a sunblock of at least SPF 30 if they will have any sun exposure. They should reapply sunblock at least every two hours, more often if perspiring heavily or getting wet, he added. “Be sure to include your ears and feet, common places people often forget.”

In addition, Meoli advises wearing a hat in the sun to better protect the scalp, ears, and face. “It’s also good to know that it’s possible to burn through light-weave clothing, so don’t assume all covered skin is protected. Further, you can get a sunburn on a cloudy, overcast day, as the UV rays can penetrate cloud cover. It’s better to be safe than sorry, so if you are heading outside in summer, your best bet is to apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes in advance.”