What is sunburn?

Sunburn is an inflammation of the skin due to over-exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Most of the sunlight's damage to the skin is caused by the ultraviolet B (UV-B) rays, which have long been known to hurt the skin. UV-B rays penetrate through to the lower layers of the skin, damaging skin cells.

While melanin, a dark pigment in the upper layers of the skin, can protect the skin from some of the effects of UV rays, different people have different amounts of melanin in their skin. This explains why some people get burned easier than others.

What exactly are UV rays?

UV rays are a type of radiation energy, which are given out by the sun and sun beds/tanning lamps.

There are three types of UV rays; A, B, and C. Only UV-A and UV-B rays can reach the earth. UV-B rays have long been known to damage skin. However in recent years it has been suggested that UV-A rays may be dangerous to the skin as well.




What kind of damage can sunburn cause?

Other than the immediate pain and discomfort, sunburn can also cause long-term damage. It can increase a person's chance of developing skin cancer.

Repeated overexposure to the sun can also cause your skin to age prematurely, giving it a leathery appearance.

Can I get sunburn from a sun bed?

Yes. Sun beds and tanning lamps produce artificial UV-A and UV-B rays. These can have the same effect on the skin as the sun does.

What are the symptoms of sunburn?

Symptoms of sunburn usually become obvious within a few hours of exposure to the sun. The skin turns red and can be very warm to the touch. It can also be tender and painful. Sometimes blisters develop.

Over the next few days, the skin may then tan or peel. Peeling skin will reveal the red underlayer of the skin.

In severe cases of sunburn, symptoms can include headaches, fever, chills, nausea, and even shock. Severe cases of sunburn should always be medically treated.

When am I most at risk from sunburn?

UV rays are most intense from late in the morning through to the afternoon. Therefore be especially careful during the hours of 10am and 3pm.

This doesn't just apply to the summer. While UV rays are not as intense at other times of the year, they can still do damage to the skin.

What should I do if I get sunburned?

If you, or somebody you know is severely burned, always get medical attention.

If the burn is mild, the person should drink plenty of water. To ease the pain, placing damp cloths on the burns may give some temporary relief. Similarly soaking in a bath of tepid water may help. Do not use soap as this may irritate the burn. Afterwards, do not rub the skin dry, gently pat it dry instead.

Apply after-sun lotion. Do not apply any other kinds of lotions or creams unless they have been specifically cleared by a doctor. Some of them may contain ingredients which could further irritate the skin.

If blisters develop, watch for infection. Any infection should be treated by a doctor.

How can I prevent sunburn?

Whenever the sun shines in Ireland, many people seem to throw caution to the wind, going out into direct sunlight with absolutely no protection. Even with all the warnings about skin cancer, some people continually put themselves at risk.

Use sun cream to protect your skin. Ensure that you use the correct factor. There is no point in using a low factor if you are pale-skinned and susceptible to burning. Be sensible, especially on a sun holiday where you may be experiencing temperatures much higher than those normally associated with Ireland.

Start with a high factor or sun block, gradually lowering the factor as you start to tan. Do not rush it. A tan which develops over a period of time lasts longer then a tan which develops after being burned.

If you are sensitive to the sun, for example if you are very pale-skinned, use sun block.

Remember the scalp can burn as well, so wear a hat or cap.

How can I prevent sunburn in children?

Can a person get burned even when it is cloudy?

Yes. Clouds don't stop UV rays from reaching the earth.

Can a person get burned while they are swimming?

Yes. UV rays actually bounce off reflective surfaces, such as water and snow. Therefore while you are swimming, UV rays are hitting you from above and below, so if you are not adequately protected you will burn. (This also explains why you often see skiers wearing sun block on their nose.)

Who is most susceptible to sunburn?

People with fair or pale skin are most susceptible to sunburn, especially if they have red hair. Sometimes people with light hair and freckles can be susceptible too.

Some people never tan. If you don't tan, always wear sun block when you are in the sun to protect your skin.

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