Most people enjoy a little bit of sunshine – it’s great for the body and mind alike! Something nobody likes, however, is sunburn! Like ying and yang, the two often come hand-in-hand, and can sometimes put a nasty downer on an otherwise fantastic day of sunshine.
That’s why our private doctors at London Doctors Clinic are here to bring you some sun-safety tips, to help you enjoy this glorious weather responsibly. Don’t worry, we’re not going to banish you from enjoying the outdoors, nor enforce a strict sun-safe dress code; however, we do have some useful tips for preventing that stinging sunburn… You can thank us later!
Summer is well and truly here, and most of us are looking forward to spending some time outdoors in the warmer weather over the next few months. Perhaps you’re even planning a holiday away to a warm country to catch some rays.
Unfortunately, despite regular warnings about the risks of spending to much time in the sun on our skin, many of us continue to subject our skin to these pleasurable (but sometimes harmful) ultraviolet (UV) beams.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy the sun – you certainly should! Exposure to the sunlight can help improve your bone health, improve skin disorders such as psoriasis, boosts your mood, and give you a nice healthy glow! But when we overexpose our delicate skin to the sun, we can run into problems, and sunburn is one such issue.
Anyone who has ever suffered a true sunburn knows how uncomfortable it can be as it heals. All of us make mistakes at some stage, but did you know that frequently exposing your skin to UV radiation for long periods of time can cause long term, irreversible damage, and leave you at risk for a number of unpleasant conditions? These include:
- Prickly heat – a red and itchy rash that occurs due to excessive sweating
- Early ageing of the skin – sagging, liver spots, and wrinkles
- Solar keratosis – development of rough, scaly spots on the damaged skin
- Skin cancer – a malignant condition, often spotted late and surgically treated
Now, let’s talk a bit more about who is most likely to get sunburned, and how you can tell if you have, in fact, got burnt…
Am I At Risk of Sunburn?
You are at heightened risk of becoming sunburned if:
- You have pale skin, blonde or red hair, or blue eyes
- You are in a country that is close to the equator, such as Brazil or Uganda
- You are very young (under age 6) or older (over age 60)
- You spend prolonged periods of time outdoors in the sun, especially without protection (but more on that later)
You should always be aware of the risks of the sun and take steps to protect your skin, even if you don’t fit the description above.
Children under the age of 6 are at heightened risk of becoming sunburned
Symptoms of Sunburn and Heatstroke
The symptoms of sunburn vary from person to person, and can be mild to severe. Sunburn, especially if it is more severe (when it is called heatstroke), can leave you feeling unwell, miserable and in pain. Look out for the following signs:
- Skin that is red, tender to touch, warm, and sore
- Skin that flakes and peels several days following exposure to the sun
In addition to the signs above, severe sunburn can cause:
- Swelling of the skin
- Chills or fever
- An overall feeling of being unwell
If you have severe sunburn or heatstroke, you may require medical treatment to make you feel better.
As you can see, the symptoms of sunburn can leave you feeling pretty uncomfortable, and could even ruin your enjoyment of the pleasant weather or the rest of your holiday. In this case, prevention is definitely better than cure, and luckily there are lots of things you can do which allow you to enjoy the sun without suffering the consequences. Read on below to find our tips for preventing the dreaded sunburn…
- Avoid regular exposure to the sunlight, especially when it is at its strongest (usually between midday and 3pm)
- Enjoy the shade if the sun is very strong
- Cover up with a hat (especially important if you are bald), light and loose clothing that allows air to circulate and breathable shoes
- Buy and regularly apply a good quality sunscreen with an SPF number recommended for your skin tone (the level of protection is shown as a star rating on the bottle!)
- Remember to re-apply your sunscreen every 2-3 hours, after coming out of the water, and don’t forget areas that can burn more easily, such as the nose, tips of the ears, or front of the feet
- Buy and wear sunglasses that have a UV filer built in
Remember to re-apply your sunscreen every 2-3 hours
If all else fails and you do get sunburned, then don’t beat yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes the draw of the sun is too strong and we opt not to (or forget to) follow the advice we have been given!
If you have been sunburned or you feel unwell in the sun, the first step in managing sunburn is to remove yourself from the rays and go indoors. Cool the skin by having a cool shower or bath, or sponging the skin with lukewarm water. Ensure that you also drink enough water, as the sunburn can result in dehydration. Drinking plenty of fluids will also cool you down.
For mild sunburn, apply a topical cream to the skin. A moisturising lotion (emollient) or after-sun cream will be available from your local pharmacy. Calamine lotion can relieve any itching due to the sunburn. These creams will soothe the skin, and relieve the feeling of tightness that can often happen.
Hydrocortisone cream (also available from your local pharmacy) can be applied to relieve itching, and reduce pain and inflammation, and if you have more severe pain due to your sunburn, you can even try painkillers in the form of tablets.
If your sunburn is severe, you should take advice from a GP or private GP. You might even require burn dressings and special burn cream. In you feel very unwell and have the symptoms of heatstroke, book an appointment with your GP for advice. We have fully qualified private GPs available at all nine of our central London clinic locations, with short-notice and same-day doctor appointments available. If you’ve got any sun-related concerns, we’re here for you!
By Melissa Dillon