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Sweet, Sweet Sunburns

I’ve been really naughty lately and have been spending a lot of time in the sun. Like, A LOT. For the most part, I’m constantly slathering on sunscreen and harping on others to remember to re-apply throughout the day. One of my missions as an esthetician is to prevent sunburns. What did I do this past weekend while on the lake? Fore go the sunscreen for less than an hour in the AM AND… get sunburned. As I was chatting with a friend about such disappointing sunburns, the question to what they actually are came up. What happens to our skin when we get a tan? What happens to our skin when we get sunburned? What can you do to relieve sunburn pain? Other than the obvious effects of sunburn, I think it’s a territory that should be explained more.

Our skin isn’t just like toast, to where we get hot and get dark and crunchy. Without proper protection, lying out in the sun will do serious damage to your skin.  In American culture, being tan is beautiful, so we go to extreme lengths to be darker than our natural skin color. Although it makes us look darker, it accelerates aging, causes hyperpigmentation, and in some cases will make you look like the leather lady or create a deeper obsession like tanning mom.

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Enough about the tan and why we love it. What is it? When your skin is exposed to UVA and UVB rays, it triggers its defense mechanism; melanin. Melanin controls the amount of UV radiation from the sun that penetrates the skin by normal absorption. Easier terms- when UV rays are beating down on your skin, the body naturally battles it and tries to protect it by releasing more melanin into the skin’s cells. With more production of melanin, your skin color will darken, however UV radiation causes direct and indirect DNA damage to the skin. Once the melanin is activated and can’t handle the UV rays, it starts to burn.

A sunburn is a burn to living tissue caused by overexposure to UV rays. It is a natural reaction of the body from the DNA damage excited by UVB rays. Once the damage is recognized by the body, it starts trying to repair itself and increases melanin production to help further prevent sun damage.  The most important takeaway from this is whether you are tan (increased melanin production) or sunburned, these natural processes are BOTH triggered by direct DNA damage. Sorry to break your heart darlin’. Once you’re sunburned, you’ll usually experience different degrees of pain, swelling, itching, nausea, fever and my favorite peeling. (That skin you burned off is gone honey, now enjoy peeling it off.)

Have I scared you enough yet? Of course not – plus I’m saving the skin cancer post for later. With proper sunscreen application and preventive care before sun exposure, you can congratulate yourself for taking care of your skin in the sun. For those of us who have intentionally or accidentally burned ourselves, you can follow these easy steps for calming your blistering sunburn.

  1. Take a pain reliever like aspirin or ibuprofen.
  2. Cool off the sunburned spots with cool water or a cold towel for about 15 minutes.
  3. Dab the blistered spots with a soft washcloth soaked with apple cider vinegar or green tea.
  4. Use aloe vera gel to help calm and soothe your skin.
  5. Use pure honey or milk and apply to your sun burn.

Now that we all know what a tan and sunburn is, don’t forget your sunscreen the next time you’re in the sun. Or your hat, or your UV protective shirt… never mind, don’t even go outdoors.

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One Comment

  1. Mary
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    If you knew the true dangers of skin cancer, you wouldn’t be so careless to get such a burn.
    If you are buying skin care products to look younger and more youthful, and spending alot of time in the sun, you are wasting your $$$$ . The sun and smoking have the most aging effects on your skin.

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