Sunburn – Look on the bright side

Sunburn intro

What is sunburn

Sunburn is an inflammatory reaction and condition whereby the outermost layer of your skin becomes sore, red and hot to the touch, due to excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light/ radiation from the sun without the adequate protection in the form of sunscreen.

Ultraviolet light comes in three forms: UVA, UVB and UVC. The most relevant of these to sunburn being UVA and UVB variety.

All about sunburn – A comprehensive infographic

For a more in depth look into sunburn please continue reading.

UVA Radiation

Ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation facts and risks:

Ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation has a longer wavelength and is linked to ageing of the skin

  • UVA is slightly less intense than UVB but has the ability to penetrate through to deeper layers of the skin. This penetration of UVA causes genetic damage to cells in the inner part of the outermost layer of skin, where most skin cancers occur.
  • Over time excessive exposure to UVA leads to premature ageing and wrinkling of the skin and possibly even worse, skin cancer.
  • The intensity and propensity for sun damage with UVA staying the same throughout the day, as long as the sun is out. You might just need to become a vampire.
  • UVA has the ability to penetrate through glass, so be careful.

UVB Radiation

Ultraviolet (UVB) light facts and risks – most relevant to sunburn:

Ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation has a shorter wavelength and is linked to sunburn of the skin.

  • UVB damages and affects the outermost layers of the skin, which with overexposure is to blame for sunburn, tanning and in very severe cases red and painful blistering of the skin.
  • The intensity and propensity for sun damage with UVB changes throughout the day, with the highest risk being between late-morning to mid-afternoon in temperate climates and year-round in places of high-altitude.
  • UVB does not penetrate through glass, so no fear.

Many factors affect the amount of ultraviolet radiation you are exposed to

Time of the year – There is a greater amount of UV radiation during the summer months.

Time of the day – UV radiation is most intense at 12 PM, especially during summer months, you know those bright British summers.

Weather – you can get sunburned on a cloudy day, which you wouldn’t think to be the case. So make sure to protect yourself with sunscreen even during the cloudiest of British weather that we’ve been forced to accept.

Sunburn intro

What is melanin and what is the relevance to sunburn

Melanin is a natural pigment that is produced by the body and comes in various forms, of which eumelanin is found in the eyes, hair and most relevant to sun protection, the skin. Melanin in the skin is produced by special cells known as melanocytes, which produce varying amounts of melanin from person to person, which is dependent on you genetic makeup.

How does melanin help protect your skin from sunburn

So you find yourself laying on a recliner and taking in the sun when you do so you body reacts by producing more melanin, done in an effort to protect your skin from the suns harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. This extra melanin isn’t enough however to provide adequate protection against the sun. This forms the basis for why it is of paramount importance to always use plenty of sunscreen, the right way.

Sunburn intro

How do you know that you have been affected by sunburn

If a part of your body is exposed to the sun it can sunburn, this included your scalp (even under your hair), your earlobes and even your lips. Moreover, even areas of your body that are covered can be subject to sunburn, this is of course if you are wearing loose and woven clothing that allows for UV penetration.

When affected, sunburned skin can start to show signs of damage within a few hours post-sun exposure, with the real extent of damage showing the following day (covered below).

Signs and symptoms of sunburned skin

Sunburn on the face or any other part of the body usually appears within a few hours after excessive sun (UV) light or artificial light e.g. sunlamp exposure e.g. a tanning bed.

  • General redness or pinkness of the skin (colour depending on skin type).
  • Skin feels warm or even hot to the touch.
  • Formation of fluid-filled blisters, which may occasionally burst, releasing contents.
  • Pain, tenderness and itchiness.
  • Peeling and itching a few days following sunburn, this is your body’s attempt to remove any sun-damaged and burnt skin.

In cases of both intense and repeated exposure to UV light from the sun and artificial light e.g. sunlamps, you can subject your skin to visible damage, of which include, rough patches, dark spots and increasingly dry and or old looking/ wrinkled skin.

Worse even is the increased risk of skin cancer with intense and excessive exposure to UV light.

Sunburn intro

When do you need to see a doctor when affected by sunburn

You need to see a doctor as soon as possible if you exhibit any signs of severe sunburn:

When you are affected by severe sunburn you may exhibit signs of flu, which include: feeling feverish, with a high temperature of 38°C and above.
You feel hot or have the chills.
You feel extremely weak, nauseous and may suffer from a headache.

Other symptoms and reasons to contact a doctor when suffering from severe sunburn:

  • Your skin is covered with painful, fluid-filled blisters, that cover a large area of the body.
  • A baby or young child is affected by any degree of sunburn (not just severe).
  • If there are signs that the sunburned skin has become infected e.g. presence of yellow pus.

Treating sunburnt skin (a guide)

How to treat skin that is affected by sunburn (top 5 do’s and don’ts)

Top 5 tips when dealing with sunburn

1.  Get out of the sun as soon as possible (I know this is hard considering the sun is like the loch ness monster here in the UK, apparently, it was here and now it’s gone).

2. Cool your skin as soon as you realise that you have been affected by sunburn, if you have a pool take a dip for a few seconds and then cover up and get inside, out of the sun immediately. Once inside you can continue to cool the affected skin by having a short shower or with a cold compress or ice, but make sure not to place the ice directly on the skin as ironically this can worsen pain and cause damage.

3. When you are sunburned, water is able to escape and evaporate from your skin, this leaves you very dehydrated and can cause many other symptoms e.g. headache and nausea. Some symptoms of dehydration include: feeling thirsty, dryness of the mouth, lips and eyes and feeling tired amongst other examples. You can always just drink water but it is essential that you replenish your electrolytes, easily achieved by drinking sports drinks e.g. Lucozade.

4. All skin affected by sunburn can become infected, this is why it is very important to keep these areas covered until you are sure that your sunburn is full healed.

5. If pain is severe and unbearable you can take painkillers by mouth e.g. paracetamol and or ibuprofen (make sure to read the packaging for appropriate daily dosing based on age). Ibuprofen has a better ability to help deal with the inflammation of sunburn, but ensure that you are able to safely take it safely, taking into consideration any conditions you have or medicines you are taking.

Top 5 things to avoid when dealing with sunburn

1. There is an increased risk of developing a skin infection on sunburned skin, this is especially the case if you scratch or peel the affected area. Whilst you are recovering from sunburn you should ensure that all affected areas are adequately covered, this reduces the risk of infection and the temptation you may have the scratch and peel sunburned skin.

2. Make sure to adequately cover skin that is affected by sunburn. However, it is important not to wear tight-fitting clothing on such sunburned skin as this prevents air from reaching the area, which may impair and prolong the recovery process.

3. In some instances of severe sunburn the skin can become blistered. It is no secret that we can become tempted to pick and even burst these blistered, which increases the risk of infection.

4. When suffering from sunburn dehydration is a common consequence, so once we consume and replenish fluids and electrolytes we must ensure that water consumed doesn’t escape the skin. You can achieve this retention of water by using a gentle moisturiser on the affected skin for a few of days, but make sure to avoid petroleum jelly and oil-based ointments as they can trap heat and make the burning of skin even worse.

5. You need to cool down the skin to halt further burning, but it is important to avoid putting ice directly on the skin. This is due to the fact that direct ice can have a drying effect and cause more pain and damage to the affected skin.

How to protect you skin form sunburn

Protect yourself form sunburn by using a sunscreen with ideal characteristics of SPF and star rating (all you need to know about sunscreen).

Choosing the right sunscreen for you (a guide)

Choosing the right sunscreen

How to apply sunscreen (a simple step by step guide)

  • Sunscreen is made up of a lot of chemicals and particles that may occasional clump and separate, so make sure to thoroughly shake before use.
  • Apply sunscreen thickly to all exposed areas of the skin. If using sunscreen on the entire body try to evenly spread a handful of sunscreen (1 ounce) over all exposed areas. If only the face is exposed to the sun then a third to half a teaspoon should be enough, but a rule of thumb is until you see an even sheen on the skin.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before exposing your skin to the sun.
  • Reapply sunscreen throughout the day, as long as you are exposed to the sun.

How to apply sunscreen (a guide)


So as we’ve established the sun can have can be a menacing force, with its arsenal of ultraviolet rays wreaking havoc, don’t let this to get under your skin. With the help of sunscreen and your knowledge on dealing with its effects, you now have the armour to deflect all that the sun has to offer.