Whether it’s a sunny vacation in the winter — or running through the sprinklers in your backyard on a hot day, or hiking your favorite trail on a high mountain, or skiing on a sunny day, it’s easy to get more sun than we intended. And if you do, we’ll give you 5 ways to treat a sunburn along with a list of Consumer Reports 2017 best sunscreens.
Any time you get a sunburn, it damages your skin. And the more often it happens, the higher the risk of developing skin cancer.
Your skin type largely affects how and if you will sunburn. People with light or pale skin, freckled skin, naturally blond or red hair, or blue eyes sunburn much more easily than those individuals with darker complexions.
The American Cancer Society says skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, affecting 1 in 5 Americans. In fact, 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year. Melanoma, the most deadly, will account for about 76,380 cases of skin cancer in 2016.
In technical terms, dermatologist Neal Schultz, M.D. explains why sunburns cause damage. He said, “ultraviolet damage causes free radical production and oxidative stress, which causes DNA damage.”
If summer fun leaves you with a sunburn, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following steps.
5 Ways to Treat a Sunburn
1. Act Fast to Cool It Down
If you’re near a cold pool, lake or ocean, take a quick dip to cool your skin, but only for a few seconds so you don’t prolong your exposure. Then cover up and get out of the sun immediately. Continue to cool the burn with cold compresses. You can use ice to make ice water for a cold compress, but don’t apply ice directly to the sunburn. Or take a cool shower or bath, but not for too long, which can be drying, and avoid harsh soap, which might irritate the skin even more.
2. Moisturize While Skin Is Damp
While skin is still damp, use a gentle moisturizing lotion (but not petroleum or oil-based ointments, which may trap the heat and make the burn worse). Repeat to keep burned or peeling skin moist over the next few days.
3. Decrease the Inflammation
At the first sign of sunburn, taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin, can help with discomfort and inflammation, says Dr. Brackeen, who practices at the Skin Cancer Institute in Lubbock, Texas. You can continue with the NSAIDs as directed till the burn feels better. You can also use a 1 percent over-the-counter cortisone cream as directed for a few days to help calm redness and swelling. Aloe vera may also soothe mild burns and is generally considered safe. Wear loose, soft, breathable clothing to avoid further skin irritation, and stay out of the sun.
4. Replenish Your Fluids
Burns draw fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body, so you may become dehydrated, explains Dr. Brackeen. It’s important to rehydrate by drinking extra liquids, including water and sports drinks that help to replenish electrolytes, immediately and while your skin heals.
5. See a Doctor If …
You should seek medical help if you or a child has severe blistering over a large portion of the body, has a fever and chills, or is woozy or confused. Don’t scratch or pop blisters, which can lead to infection. Signs of infection include red streaks or oozing pus.
Bottom line: Your skin will heal, but real damage has been done. “Repeat sunburns put you at a substantial risk for skin cancer and premature skin aging, and I want people to ‘learn from the burn,’” Dr. Brackeen says. Review the guidelines in The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Prevention Handbook. Remember how bad this sunburn felt, then commit to protecting yourself from the sun every day, all year long.
2017 Consumer Report Top 5 Sunscreens
“Consumer Reports just released their annual list of top sunscreens, with a few important reminders. The number on the bottle isn’t always accurate: Of the 58 lotions, sprays and sticks rated by Consumer Reports this year, 20 of them tested at less than half of the SPF listed on their label. For example, one sunscreen they tested was labeled SPF 30, but the UVB protection it actually provided was between 10 and 19.”
Here are their top 5 recommendations:
La Roche-Posay, Anthelios 60 Melt-in Sunscreen Milk, $36
Equate, Sport Lotion SPF 50, $5
Pure, Sun Defense Disney Frozen Lotion SPF 50, $6
Coppertone, WaterBabies Lotion SPF 50, $12
Equate, Ultra Protection Lotion SPF 50, $8
If you can’t find one of the products listed above, Consumer Reports recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 40. It should also contain ingredients like avobenzone rather than “natural” ingredients.
How Many Sunburns Does it Take to Get Skin Cancer?
“There is no such thing as a healthy suntan. Any change in your natural skin color is a sign of skin damage. Evidence suggests tanning greatly increases your risk of developing skin cancer. The increase in skin pigment called melanin, which causes your skin to tan, is a sign of damage. Once skin is exposed to UV radiation, it increases the production of melanin in an attempt to protect the skin from further damage. The increase in melanin may cause your skin tone to darken over the next 48 hours.”
“Every time your skin color changes after sun exposure, your risk of developing sun-related ailments increases. The sun’s rays, called ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays (UVA and UVB rays), damage your skin. This leads to early wrinkles, skin cancer and other skin problems. Over time, being in the sun often – even if you don’t burn – can lead to skin cancer.”