What is Sunburn?
Sunburned skin is typically red, painful and warm to the touch. It may also blister and ooze with liquid.
Sunburns are uncomfortable and should be avoided, but did you know there are additional complications that make it even more important to prevent sunburn?
Other complications due to sunburn include:
- Changes to skin, such as developing wrinkles, freckles and skin lesions.
- Development of skin cancer which is the most common form of cancer in the United States.
- Damage to eyes, including the development of cataracts and vision loss.
Everyone is susceptible to damage from the sun, but some are more prone. Risk factors include:
- Having fair skin (especially in those with blue eyes and red or blonde hair).
- Working outdoors.
- Living or vacationing somewhere consistently sunny or at a high altitude.
- Repeated exposure to tanning beds.
- Use of sun-sensitizing medications.
Top 5 Medications for Photosensitivity
- Antibiotics (ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, trimethoprim)
- Statins (simvastatin, lovastatin, atorvastatin, rosuvastatin)
- Diuretics (hydrochlorothiazide, furosemide, triamterene)
- Retinoids (isotretinoin)
- NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib, piroxicam)
Prevention with Sunscreen
Using sunscreen is key in preventing sunburns and remaining safe while enjoying the sun. Learn how to best use these products so they remain effective at preventing damage to your skin.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a sunscreen:
- SPF of 30 or Higher
- Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of how much UV radiation is needed to cause a sunburn. The stronger the SPF rating, the stronger the sunlight (UV radiation) it can protect you from. Depending on how strong the UV radiation you are exposed to, the time to develop a sunburn would vary.
- Broad Spectrum
- These sunscreens protect against UVA and UVB rays, which are both able to cause sunburns.
- UVA rays are longer and able to penetrate deeper into the skin thereby causing DNA damage which may lead to skin cancer.
- UVB rays reach the surface of the skin and cause tanning, burning and signs of aging.
- Water Resistant or Very Water Resistant
- These sunscreens maintain their SPF after 40-80 minutes of sweating or swimming.
You can obtain your sunscreen protection from lotions, oils, creams, butters, sticks, pastes, gels and sprays. All of these forms are considered safe and effective, but directions for their use can vary according to their form.
General Tips for Application
- Apply to all exposed skin (including your neck, face, ears, arms, legs and scalp) 15 minutes before going outdoors.
- Use enough! Most adults need 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons to cover their entire body.
- For hard to reach areas, ask for help from another person or use a spray sunscreen.
- Use lip balm with 15+ SPF to protect your lips.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if swimming or sweating, and 10-15 minutes before going into water.
- If you are using insect repellent in addition to sunscreen, apply sunscreen first.
- Check expiration dates. Expiration dates can be found on sunscreen’s packaging. If not, according to the FDA, you can assume the product is good for 3 years past the purchase date.
More Than Sunscreen
- Wear wide-brimmed hats and clothing that covers exposed skin for greatest protection. Consider using clothing designed to provide sun protection that will list its UV protection factor (UPF).
- Wear sunglasses UVA and UVB protection when heading outdoors.
- Limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Seek shade whenever possible and take breaks from the sun.
- Do not sun tan or use tanning beds.
 Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any concerns you may have on the side effects of your medication.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. The Sun and Your Medicine. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/special-features/sun-and-your-medicine. Accessed June 7, 2022.
American Academy of Dermatology. How to apply sunscreen. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/shade-clothing-sunscreen/how-to-apply-sunscreen . Accessed June 7, 2022.
Mayo Clinic. Sunburn. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sunburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20355922#:~:text=Intense%2C%20repeated%20sun%20exposure%20that,skin%20lesions%20and%20skin%20cancer. Published July 17, 2020. Accessed June 7, 2022.
Mayo Clinic Sunburn. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sunburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20355922 Published July 17, 2020. Accessed June 7, 2022.