Outdoor summer activities need not be interrupted by the preventable condition of sunburn. Though our skin makes vitamin D from sun exposure, too much results in sunburns, premature aging of the skin and skin cancers. Any discussion about sunburn should begin with prevention. Wearing wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and tightly woven, dark fabrics with long sleeves and pants prevent sunburn. If clothing is wet it is less protective.
Another option is clothing made of specialty lightweight fabrics that are SPF rated. Using sunscreen with a high SPF rating also helps prevent sunburn. Finally, it's a good idea to avoid sun exposure from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun is strongest.
What is an SPF rating? It is the ability of a product to prolong the amount of time it takes for a person to become mildly sunburned by UVB rays. For example, if it takes a person 15 minutes to get pink, sunscreen with an SPF of 30 increases the time in the sun before burning to 7½ hours.
UVA rays, however, are more responsible for premature aging of the skin, and SPF ratings do not apply to UVA rays. Because different products have different levels of protection against radiation in the UVA spectrum, read product labels carefully to get the type of product you need.
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Generally, fairer-skinned people should use higher SPF preparations, while darker-skinned people can use lower SPF preparations. However, most sun- lovers would be advised to use a sunscreen rated at SPF 30 or higher.
Remember, sunscreen must be applied thickly enough to be effective.
About 30 milliliters (an ounce) of sunscreen is required to cover an entire adult body; most people do not use enough sunscreen per application. Apply the sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure; every two to three hours during sun exposure; and after swimming, sweating or toweling dry.
Tanning beds provide some suntan, and therefore some minimal protection against sunburn, but that benefit is outweighed by premature aging of the skin and skin cancers.
Once sunburn happens, minimize further sun exposure until your skin is healed. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti- inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen help reduce the pain and inflammation of sunburn. If the sunburn is severe, with symptoms like blisters and fever, visit your health care provider to check for complications and different treatments.