Sunburn

It is vital that you ensure that anyone who is going to be out in the sun is adequately prepared to avoid getting sunburn.

You can reduce the risk of getting sunburn by:

  • Staying in the shade when the sun is highest in the sky and therefore strongest point.  In the UK, this is between 11am and 3pm.  If you are unable to stay in the shade, make sure you cover up by wearing loose clothing and a hat.  Ensure you use a high factor sun-cream.
  • Between 15-30 minutes before going out into the sun, you should apply a generous amount of sun-cream over the skin that will be exposed to the sun.  You should reapply the sun-cream every two hours.  The sun-cream should have a high sun protection factor (SPF).  Factor 50 is recommended for babies and children and those with fair skin.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the rays and never look directly at the sun.

Sunburn is when ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun cause damage to the skin. The skin will become red and feel very warm. It is likely to be sore and can be very tender to touch or when clothes rub against it. Some people also find that sunburn can be itchy and painful. Sunburnt skin will soon start to flake and peel off after a few days and usually heals within a week.

However, just because the sunburn does not last long it is still important to avoid getting sunburnt as it can increase the risk of developing serious health problems in later life. One of the main problems is skin cancer.

Everyone who is out in the sun and therefore being exposed to the UV rays are at risk of getting sunburn although some people are at more risk than others and these include:

  • Children
  • Pregnant women
  • Those with pale skin
  • Those with fair or red hair
  • Those with freckles
  • Those who are not used to intense sun – for example those that are on a holiday

When you are out in the sun, you may feel your skin getting hot which can be a first sign of sunburn, the redness does not always appear until several hours after your skin gets sunburn. You may also find that if there is a breeze or if you are in and out of water such as at the beach or a swimming pool complex that you do not notice your skin getting hot and you may not realise that your skin is burning by the UV rays.

If you believe that you or your child has sunburn, you should find a cool shady area to rest. You should ensure that you are well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and this will also help to cool you down. You should try and cool the skin by having a cool bath or shower or even just by pressing a cold, damp cloth against the affected area. You could apply a ‘after-sun’ moisturising lotion or a petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) to the area and you may want to do this several times. If your sunburn is bad and you are still in pain, you can take painkillers to relieve the pain. Once your skin has been sunburnt, you should also try to avoid it getting worse before it heals by ensuring you stay in the shade or wear clothing over the affected area.

If you have severe sunburn or your sunburn covers a large area you should seek medical advice as you may require special treatment that cannot be bought over the counter. Some very severe cases of sunburn may also require hospital treatment. If you have a baby or a young child who has sunburn it is important that you also seek medical help as their skin can be much more fragile and their skin may need extra help to heal. You should also see a doctor if you:

  • Feel unwell or sick
  • Suffering from headaches
  • Suffering from dizziness
  • Have blistering or swelling of the skin
  • Suffering from chills
  • Have a high temperature of 38c (100.4f) or above
  • If your child (under 5 years) has a temperature of 37.5c (99.5f) or above

If you have any question about protecting you and your family from sunburn you can speak to your pharmacist or doctor who will be able to offer you advice.

If you are concerned about your sunburn, you should seek medical advice from a doctor.

by Jenny, mum to William and James

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