As a mom, I love getting outside in the summer with my kids and soaking up the rays. But as a Westchester Health dermatologist, I also know how damaging those rays can be to the skin, especially to the point of sunburn. I often get asked how to safely spend time in the sun without getting burned, especially in the summer, so I thought I’d share my top tips here.
4 things to remember before heading out into the sun
- Try and seek shade, especially between the peak hours of 10am to 4pm when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- Cover up with sun-protective clothing. This includes a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum UVA and UVB water resistant sunscreen. This is very important. At Westchester Health, we recommend sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or higher. If you’re swimming or sweating a lot, no matter what number SPF you use, it’s a good idea to reapply approximately every 2 hours and/or after swimming.
- Don’t forget the non-obvious areas. When applying sunscreen, don’t forget the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears, and the top of your head if it’s exposed.
It’s hard to do it perfectly all the time
I wish I were always following my own rules but sometimes I’m out there in the sun with my kids and not always re-applying sunblock every time someone comes out of the water. I try to stay under an umbrella, wear a hat and sunglasses, and re-apply sunblock every couple of hours. Sometimes one of my waterlogged, sand-covered kids might get a little pink. We all do our best!
You can’t avoid the sun altogether
It’s okay to get a little bit of sun exposure with no sunscreen on to get some Vitamin D. It only takes 10-20 minutes of sun exposure a few times a week to get adequate vitamin D production.
Degrees of sunburn severity
- Most sunburn is a first-degree burn that turns the skin pink or red
- Prolonged sun exposure can cause blistering and a second-degree burn
- Sunburn does not cause a third-degree burn or scarring
What to do if you get sunburned
Sometimes in spite of all the precautions you take, you do get a sunburn. If that happens, here are 7 important things Harvard Medical School advises you to do to soothe your skin and bring down the absorbed heat.
Get out of the sun
Either find or make some shade, or go indoors. Staying out in the sun longer will only make the burn worse, perhaps cause blistering, and possibly put you at risk of heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.
Douse yourself with cool water
A cool bath, cool shower or cool damp cloth applied over the burned area will not only make the burn feel better but can bring down the temperature of the skin and underlying tissue, preventing further skin damage.
Apply an after-sun skin product that contains aloe vera
Aloe is very soothing to sunburned skin and is widely available in after-sun lotions and gels. Avoid products that contain petroleum, such as Vaseline, which can trap heat inside the skin, as well as ones that contain benzocaine or lidocaine (pain reducers), which can irritate sunburns.
Burned skin does not keep much-needed fluids inside the body as well as normal skin, so you need to drink more liquids than usual if you have a sunburn. Water is best, and you should drink several times an hour.
Take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
Either of these can help with pain and swelling.
Leave blisters alone, do not break them
If your skin develops blisters, that signals that you have sustained a second-degree burn, which is more serious. Do not break or pop the blisters. Leave them alone and consult your physician about what to do next.
Protect your sunburned skin from further damage
Until your sunburn has faded and healed (which may take several days to a week or more, depending on the severity of the burn), keep out of the sun. If you must go out, dress in lightweight, tightly woven clothing that blocks the sun’s burning rays. And wear a hat!
Read our other dermatology blogs
We’ve written several informative blogs about a variety of skin conditions which you can read here.
Want to know more about avoiding sunburn and what to do if you do get burned? Please come see us.
If you spend a lot of time in the sun or are headed somewhere sunny and you’re worried about sunburn, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment to see one of our Westchester Health dermatologists. We’ll talk with you about the safety precautions you can take to protect your skin from sunburn and what to do if you do get a burn. We’ll also take all the time you need to answer any questions you may have. Our #1 goal is to help you have healthy skin, now and in the future. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
By Alison F. Stallings, MD, FAAD, a Dermatologist with Westchester Health, member of Northwell Health Physician Partners