It’s July, and that means backyard barbeques, pool parties, and triple digit heat. Pharmacist Tara Storjohann sat down with fellow pharmacist Martin Faridian to learn more about sun safety.
What is a sunburn?
The sun emits powerful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can damage the RNA in skin cells. This aggravates the neighboring cells to mount an inflammatory response, which we recognize as a sunburn. Other effects of RNA damage include skin pigmentation (darken skin) and the development of skin cancer.
What’s the difference between sunscreen and sunblock?
Although the two terms are used interchangeably, sunblock contains metals like zinc and titanium that act as barriers against harmful UV rays. Sunscreens absorb the UVA rays before they reach the dermal layer. Consider sunblock if you burn easily.
What does SPF mean?
SPF stands for sun protection factor. An SPF of 15 means that the sunscreen only allows 1/15th of harmful radiation to reach the skin. It is important to apply sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure to allow it to be properly absorbed.
When should I reapply?
Sunscreen should be reapplied about every two hours, regardless of the SPF value. Even if you are using waterproof sunscreen, reapplication after swimming is highly recommended.
I’ve heard sunscreen lotion works better than the aerosol can, is this true?
No! You can use any formulation you prefer because both forms provide adequate protection from the sun when applied correctly.
How can I reduce my risk of developing a sunburn?
Whenever outdoors, try to limit your exposure to the sun’s harmful rays through physical barriers (long sleeve shirts, hats, etc.), chemical barriers (like sunscreen), and staying in the shade whenever possible. Keep an eye out for high pollution advisory reports, as the sun’s rays can be extra powerful on those days.
What can I use to treat a sunburn?
The first thing you can do is cool the skin by applying a cool compress to the sunburn or taking a cool bath or shower. The next step is to apply a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to reduce inflammation and help the body repair itself. Another option is to apply low dose (0.5-1%) hydrocortisone cream to help decrease the pain, inflammation, and speed healing. It’s important to drink plenty of water and to stay hydrated as this also provides the body with moisture and helps the healing process. Pain relievers like ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can also be used to minimize the inflammation from the sunburn and help with the pain.
When might a sunburn require medical attention?
If the sunburn blisters and covers a large area of the body, it’s best to have your healthcare provider check it out. Also, if signs of infection are present such as increasing pain, swelling, red streaks leading away from an open blister, or yellow drainage (pus) from an open blister medical attention is required. Finally, contact your healthcare provider right away if you experience extreme pain, fever, chills, confusion, or nausea along with the sunburn.
What should I avoid when I have a sunburn?
Petroleum jelly, butter, and oil-based products should be avoided because they clog the pores, which prevents the body from sweating and can trap the heat. Pain numbing creams such as benzocaine and lidocaine can cause allergies in some patients and will delay the healing process. You’ll also want to avoid tight fitting clothing, as this can irritate the burn.
Can my medication make me more sensitive to the sun?
Yes! Certain antibiotics, oral contraceptives, diuretics, and antidepressants can increase your sensitivity to the sun. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions regarding your current therapy.
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