Sunlight can help our mental outlook and help us feel healthier. For people who have arthritis, the sun's warmth can help relieve some of their physical pain. Many people also think that a Reference suntan Opens New Window makes a person look young and healthy. But sunlight can be harmful to the skin, causing immediate problems as well as problems that may develop years later.
A Reference sunburn is skin damage from the sun's Reference ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most sunburns cause mild pain and redness but affect only the outer layer of skin (Reference first-degree burn Opens New Window). The red skin might hurt when you touch it. These sunburns are mild and can usually be treated at home.
Skin that is red and painful and that swells up and blisters may mean that deep skin layers and nerve endings have been damaged (Reference second-degree burn Opens New Window). This type of sunburn is usually more painful and takes longer to heal.
Other problems that can be present along with sunburn include:
- Reference Heatstroke Opens New Window or other heat-related illnesses from too much sun exposure.
- Reference Allergic reactions to sun exposure, sunscreen products, or Reference medicines.
- Reference Vision problems, such as burning pain, decreased vision, or partial or complete vision loss.
Long-term problems include:
- An increased chance of having Reference skin cancer.
- An increase in the number of Reference cold sores Opens New Window.
- An increase in problems related to a health condition, such as Reference lupus Opens New Window.
- Reference Cataracts Opens New Window, from not protecting your eyes from direct or indirect sunlight over many years. Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness.
- Reference Skin changes, such as premature wrinkling or brown spots.
Your Reference skin type affects how easily you become sunburned. People with fair or freckled skin, blond or red hair, and blue eyes usually sunburn easily. Your age also affects how your skin reacts to the sun. The skin of children younger than 6 and adults older than 60 is more sensitive to sunlight.
You may get a more severe sunburn depending on:
- The time of day. You are more likely to get a sunburn between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, when the sun's rays are the strongest. You might think the chance of getting a sunburn on cloudy days is less, but the sun's damaging UV light can pass through clouds.
- Whether you are near reflective surfaces, such as water, white sand, concrete, snow, and ice. All of these reflect the sun's rays and can cause sunburns.
- The season of the year. The position of the sun on summer days can cause a more severe sunburn.
- Altitude. It is easy to get sunburned at higher altitudes, because there is less of the earth's atmosphere to block the sunlight. UV exposure increases about 4% for every 1000 ft (305 m) gain in elevation.
- How close you are to the equator (latitude). The closer you are to the equator, the more direct sunlight passes through the atmosphere. For example, the southern United States gets 1.5 times more sunlight than the northern United States.
- The Reference UV index Opens New Window of the day, which shows the risk of getting a sunburn that day.
Preventive measures and home treatment are usually all that is needed to prevent or treat a sunburn.
- Protect your skin from the sun.
- Do not stay in the sun too long.
- Use sunscreens, and wear clothing that covers your skin.
If you have any Reference health risks that may increase the seriousness of sun exposure, you should avoid being in the sun from 10 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon.
Reference Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference November 16, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Reference H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine