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Home / Features / Articles / Health and Fitness


Sunburn: Minimizing the Risk
  by Jeremy Henricks

No matter what you're doing outdoors during the summer whether it's hiking, water-skiing, or fishing you just can't stay away from the sun. It seems to attack you from all angles during the day, sending your skin into a burning frenzy. At night, you lie in bed with the ceiling fan on high, hoping that you don't roll over onto your blazing back when dreaming about tomorrow's adventure.

Person wearing sunglasses Almost everyone gets sunburned at least once during his or her life, and some people burn several times during the year from over exposure to the sun. But what can you do to avoid getting a burn?

The key is to minimize the risk of getting a burn or to avoid the sun, if at all possible. Since it's next to impossible to avoid the sun while spending time outdoors, we suggest that you use a good sunscreen. Here are a few tips:

  • Choose a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15. An SPF of 15 allows only 1/15 (7%) of the sun's rays to get through, extending safe sun exposure from 20 minutes to 5 hours without getting a sunburn. An SPF higher than 15 usually protects against sunburn for more than 5 hours.
  • Those with fair skin or precancerous skin conditions should use suncreen with an SPF of 23 or higher.
  • For a little extra money, buy sunscreen with an SPF of 30 to 60. This gives you extra protection when you're in the sun all day.
  • If you're sensitive to PABA the active ingredient in most sunscreens choose a PABA-free lotion. This is especially suggested for younger children who naturally have more sensitive skin.
  • Apply sunscreen about 15 to 20 minutes before heading into the sun. This gives it time to penetrate the skin. Make sure to pay special attention to the areas most likely to become sunburned, such as your nose, ears, cheeks, and shoulders.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 3 to 4 hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating profusely. "Waterproof" sunscreens generally stay on for about 30 to 40 minutes in the water.

Here are some other tips:

  • Wear a hat. This will cover your face, and, depending on the hat, your neck and ears. If you're going to be in the sun all day, wear a shirt as well. Remember that water, sand, and snow increases sun exposure from reflected rays, and the shade from a hat won't protect you.
  • Drink plenty of water to replace lost fluid and to prevent dehydration.
  • If you happen to get sunburned, there are several products on the market that will alleviate the pain, such as Americaine, Solarcaine, or generic benzocaine. Aloe vera gel is a tried-and-true favorite because it soothes the skin, especially after being refrigerated.
  • Taking Advil or Tylenol may also ease the pain and help you sleep. However, please consult a doctor before taking medications of any kind.

Enjoy the summer, and protect your skin.

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