Spring – a common time for sunburn
Spring is a wonderful time of year for many reasons. The days are getting longer, the winter illness season is coming to an end, and many outdoor activities are beckoning once again. However, it is also the time of year when many severe sunburns occur. There are several reasons for this:
- Many people’s skin is quite pale after the long winter, and more vulnerable to burn.
- The air is generally cooler than in the summer, so it is more difficult to feel when a burn is occurring.
- The sun is getting higher in the sky, so the rays are becoming more direct, and are therefore more likely to cause skin injury.
- Spring sports and yard work can abruptly increase the amount of time people spend outdoors.
- Some people are anxious to get tan after winter and try to do it all at once.
- While we associate many summer activities with the need for sun protection, spring activities often don’t trigger this thought.
Preventing sunburn is important
There are many health hazards associated with sunburn, the most serious of which is the aggressive form of skin cancer known as melanoma. Occasionally, this type of cancer is diagnosed in people in their teens. Exposure to the sun’s radiation increases the risk of genetic mutations in our skin cells which can lead to this dreaded condition.
But that’s not the only reason to avoid getting burned. These are true burns and can range in severity from superficial first degree burns with only mild discomfort, to deep second degree burns with blistering, extreme pain, and sometimes permanent skin changes. The younger a child is when sunburn occurs, the more severe the damage is likely to be.
Another concern with sunburn is the increased risk of other heat-related injuries. Someone with a severe sunburn is more likely to suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can lead to severe illness and even death. Occasionally, sunburns can affect a large enough portion of the body to cause the serious conditions associated with other significant burns, including susceptibility to infections and temperature regulation problems.
How to protect our children (and ourselves)
As with many things relating to our health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We should think about sun protection every day. Here are a few specifics that may help:
- Sun protective clothing and hats are usually the most effective means of preventing skin injury due to the sun, especially in infants and toddlers.
- Sunscreen, with an SPF of at least 30, is important to use on exposed skin.
- It should be applied about 20-30 minutes before sun exposure, sweating, or getting wet.
- Be sure to use enough. For an adult, this might mean up to 1-2 ounces per application.
- Reapply after getting wet, even if the sunscreen claims to be waterproof.
- Sunscreen can be used on babies, but the time spent in the sun should be very limited in this vulnerable population.
- Remember that sunscreen and insect repellent often don’t go well together, and may even inactivate each other. Read the labels carefully.
- Beware of reflected sun, whether from snow or water or even concrete, as this can greatly increase sun exposure, especially in young ones.
- Pay attention to the UV index, found on most weather reports and apps, to know when the sun will be most likely to cause harm.
- Avoid being outside between the hours of 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM as this is when the UV index is typically highest.
- Wear sunglasses which block 100% of the UVA and UVB rays, because eyes can get sunburned too.
- Avoid the use of tanning oils and creams as these do not block the sun’s harmful rays.
- Never use tanning beds, especially children and teens, as this direct exposure to harmful UV rays greatly increases the risk of the problems mentioned above.
As pediatricians, we strongly encourage outdoor activities because of the many health benefits they provide. Most adults, and many children, would do well to spend more time out of doors. We should also focus on doing so in a safe manner, so as not to cause unintended harm. By keeping these simple ideas about sun protection in mind, we can all better enjoy this wonderful spring season and the summer which is just around the corner.
Richard Paxton, MD
Canyon View Pediatrics