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Don’t Get Burned: Ways to Avoid Sunburn

We all get excited when spring and summer sunshine hits—it feels great to be out in the warm sun after the DC area’s sometimes harsh fall and winter weather. But too much sun exposure is not only unhealthy—it’s dangerous. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, every sunburn you get—even just one—elevates your risk of developing melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Luckily, it’s easy to avoid sunburn. Read on for the best ways to protect your skin.

Follow These Guidelines to Keep Your Skin Safe

  • Get out of the sun and into the shade. Yes, we know this isn’t possible or even desirable for most people. But it’s a good idea to at least limit your exposure to sun, especially between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., when the sun is at its brightest. If you do need to be out in the sun during these hours, follow the rest of the tips here to protect yourself.
  • Cover up. While summer weather encourages us all to wear fewer clothes, if you want to keep your skin safe, keeping it covered is a smart step. Lightweight clothing like cotton t-shirts and linen provide a small amount of protection, while thicker materials like denim offer much more. A hat is essential sunwear; the wider the brim, the better (the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a minimum 3-inch brim). And did you know that you can develop melanoma on your eyes and eyelids? It’s true—so wear sunglasses that offer 99 – 100 percent protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  • Wear sunscreen regularly. Applying sunscreen is the most basic measure you can take to avoid sunburn. There has been a lot of discussion about what the different SPF (sun protection factor) levels in sunscreens mean. The Skin Cancer Foundation has a great roundup of sunscreen types and formulas. The general rule? Apply two tablespoons of SPF 15 or higher sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before you go outside, and reapply it every two hours. If you are swimming, reapply every time you get out of the water. And don’t forget the tops of your hands, the backs of your ears, and the tops of your feet!

Why Do People Still Get Sunburned?

By now, most Americans are well aware of the risks of sun exposure. Yet people continue to eschew easy ways of protecting themselves. Why is that? Here are a few “excuses,” followed by the facts that prove them wrong.

  • “But I stay out of the sun! I get my tan in a tanning salon.” Surprise—you can develop melanoma from tanning beds and booths. Using them is just as dangerous as tanning in the sun, even if the salon owners insist that their bulbs are safe.
  • “We need Vitamin D and the only way to get it is from the sun.” This is a widely-held belief, but it isn’t actually true. You can get your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin D from many regular foods as well as from supplements.
  • “Sunscreen makes my skin break out.” Historically, this has been a problem for some people, particularly with sunblock lotions meant for the face. However, many of today’s sunscreens have advanced, non-comedogenic formulas that won’t clog your pores or cause breakouts. After a little trial and error, you should be able to find one that suits you.

How to Treat a Sunburn

By now, we hope you’ve learned that sunburn is completely preventable. But if for some reason you do find yourself with a sunburn, follow these steps for relief.

  • Take ibuprofen as soon as possible to help alleviate redness, pain, and swelling.
  • Take a cool bath or shower.
  • Apply moisturizer liberally to the affected area; if the burn is particularly painful, you can use hydrocortisone lotion for relief.
  • Drink plenty of water in the days following the burn.
  • See a health care provider (like an urgent care clinic) if the burn is blistering and covers 20 percent or more of your body.

Sunburn Is 100 Percent Preventable!

Don’t risk your skin—or your life. Cover up, use sunscreen, and limit your exposure to strong daytime sun. Protect yourself so you have more years to enjoy the outdoors!