Preventing Sunburn

Aug 4, 2022

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

While outside recently, my kids reminded me of the biggest organ in the body, it is your skin. Sometimes we do not think about the skin as an organ, but it is a quite important one as well. One of the main functions of the skin is protection. It protects the body from external factors such as bacteria, chemicals, and temperature. It also protects the body from injuries, sometimes taking a beating from the outside world. Keeping the skin strong and healthy is essential to ensuring ongoing protection.

The skin protects our body from sunlight and the sun's damaging effects. Sunlight is composed of different types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, including two that can be harmful to the skin. UV-A rays are present during all daylight hours. They can pass through clouds, windows and clothing and are responsible for premature skin aging (known as photoaging) and can also be a cause of skin cancer.

UV-B rays are the main cause of sunburns, which is an inflammatory response of the skin. UV-B rays also play a key role in the development of skin cancer and photoaging. Photoaging and skin cancer are long-term effects of sun exposure. You are at a higher risk of sunburn if you are fair-skinned, you spend time in the mountains or the tropics, you spend time outside on the sand, snow, or water as they reflect UV rays. Babies and toddlers are also at increased risk of burns.

A single outing without sunscreen, however, can be enough for the skin to burn. Preventive measures aimed at reducing the risks associated with sun exposure can provide both short and long-term protection. The name of the game when it comes to sunburn is prevention.

The most effective way to prevent a sunburn and prevent harmful effects from the sun is to avoid it or limit exposure to it. Avoiding sun exposure between 11:00am and 3:00pm is ideal, because this is when the sun's rays are at their strongest. Even if its overcast you might want to find shade during these hours. Baby and infant skin is extremely sensitive

If you wear tightly woven clothing, which is loose fitting it also does a better job of protecting you from the sun. Swimming attire and fishing attire often will state the SPF factor the clothing provides. Wearing a hat is never a bad option. The best is a wide-brimmed hat that provides shade to the face, ears and back of the neck. Wear sunglasses that provide appropriate UV protection year-round. Purchase a pair that says UV400 or 100% UV Protection. Sunglasses protect the eyes from cataracts as well as the skin around the eyes. If you have questions about eye protection speak to your optometrist.

The skin of infants younger than 6 months is much more sensitive than that of adults. To protect children from the harmful effects of the sun, stay in the shade. When outside and exposed to sunlight, children should wear a hat, sunglasses, and loose-fitting clothing.

Applying sunscreen on exposed skin is extremely important. Use a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher that protects against UVA and UVB rays (make sure it says "broad spectrum protection" on the label).

Apply a generous amount of sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before exposure. Adults need at least 30 mL (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen per application. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, and after swimming or sweating heavily. Applying insect spray after the sunscreen has been absorbed. Remember to also use a lip balm with an SPF 30 or higher, which is important because the lips are sensitive and can burn easily. Those with shaved heads or thin hair may also need to apply sunscreen to the scalp if they are unable to wear a hat. For infants, if sun exposure is unavoidable despite taking these precautionary measures, the use of a physical sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is recommended.

If you are heading to an ocean you will want to use a reef-safe labeled sunscreen. Traditional ingredients in popular sunscreens are detrimental to coral reefs and fish. An estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen is believed to be deposited in oceans annually, with the greatest damage found in popular reef areas such as Hawaii and the Caribbean. Select a product using zinc or titanium dioxide (commonly used in infant formulations) if you are entering the water. The Live Clean and Attitude brands available at the DCP are both considered to be "reef safe".

Pack the sunscreen and remember to use it to keep your skin safe.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional.


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