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Summer will be here before you know it! Protect yourself

April 1st, 2011

Sunlight can help our mental outlook and help us feel healthier; however, sunlight can be damaging to the skin, causing immediate problems as well as problems that may develop years down the road. Sunburn is skin damage from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most sunburns are superficial and cause mild pain and redness and affect only the outer layer of skin (first-degree burn). These are mild and can usually be treated at home. Second-degree burns happen when skin becomes red and painful and swells up and blisters. Usually deep skin layers and nerve endings have been damaged and this type of sunburn is usually more painful and takes longer to heal.

Prolonged sun exposure may result in not only sunburn, but also other short term complications associated with it such as heatstroke or other heat-related illnesses, allergic reactions to sun exposure or to sunscreen and vision problems (burning eye pain, and change in vision). Some long-term problems include increased chance of skin cancers, development of cataracts, and premature skin wrinkling and brown spots. Skin type and age of a person are the main factors of how your skin reacts to the sun. Lighter skin burns easier, and extremes of ages (less than 6 years and greater than 60 years) are also more prone to sunburns. You may be prone to more severe sunburns depending on several other factors. The time of day is very important as you are more likely to get sunburn between 10 AM and 4 PM, when the sun's rays are the strongest. Cloudy days can be deceiving, however, your chance of getting a sunburn are no less as the sun's damaging UV light can pass through clouds. Reflective surfaces such as water, white sand, concrete, snow, and ice all reflect the sun's rays and can also cause sunburns. The season of the year (summer), altitude (higher altitudes afford less atmospheric protection), latitude (the closer you are to the equator), and a high UV index (an indicator of how strong the sun is for that day) all can increase your risk of acquiring a sunburn.

What can you do to protect yourself?

The safest way to avoid sunburn is to stay out of the sun. However, when you are out it is best to wear clothing that protects your skin and to use sunscreen. It is important to reapply sunscreen on a regular basis, especially if you sweat excessively, swim, or are exposed direct sunlight. If you have any major medical problems or 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. If you have any doubt whether you have a sunburn or health related condition that needs to be evaluated, don’t hesitate to see a physician or other trained healthcare professional.

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