Sunburn and Sun Poisoning (cont.)
John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Sunburn and sun poisoning facts
- What is sunburn?
- Can sunburn cause permanent damage?
- What is UV light and where are UV rays most intense?
- What are the symptoms of sunburn?
- What are the symptoms of severe sunburn (sun poisoning)?
- Sunburn pictures
- What first-aid measures should be taken with sunburn?
- What is the treatment for sunburn?
- Are there any home remedies to treat sunburn?
- Is a follow-up visit with a physician necessary?
- Who is most susceptible to sunburn?
- Can diseases cause a heightened sensitivity to UV rays?
- What kinds of skin cancer can UV rays cause?
- How can sunburn and skin cancer be prevented?
- How do sunscreens work?
- What is SPF?
- What is the best way to apply sunscreen?
- Do sunscreens expire?
- Can antioxidants protect against sunburn?
- Summer Skin Hazards FAQs
- Find a local Dermatologist in your town
What is sunburn?
Sunburn is an inflammation of the skin caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. A similar burn can follow overexposure to a "sun" (UV or tanning) lamp. UV radiation can also damage the eyes, although no surface burn is apparent.
Sunburn is a very common condition. According to the CDC, in the United States, approximately 50% of adults age 18 to 29 report having at least one sunburn in the preceding year.
Can sunburn cause permanent damage?
Yes. Sunburn early in life increases the risk of developing skin cancer later on. Repeated overexposure to ultraviolet rays can also scar, freckle, dry out, and wrinkle the skin prematurely. In addition, frequent overexposure to ultraviolet rays can increase the risk of developing eye cataracts and macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.
What is UV light and where are UV rays most intense?
UV light is radiation energy in the form of invisible light waves. UV light is emitted by the sun and by tanning lamps.
The sun discharges three types of ultraviolet radiation:
- ultraviolet A (UVA),
- ultraviolet B (UVB), and
- ultraviolet C (UVC).
Only UVA and UVB rays reach earth. (UVC does not penetrate the earth's upper atmosphere.)
Although research has long implicated UVB as the most likely form of UV radiation to damage the skin and cause skin cancer, it is now known UVA also can be dangerous. UVB is known to affect the outer layer of skin. UVA is much less intense than UVB, but it is about 50 times more likely than UVB to reach deeper layers of skin to cause sun damage.
Tanning lamps also produce UVA and/or UVB. These artificial rays affect the skin in the same way as do UVA and UVB from the sun.
When and where are UV rays most intense?
UV rays are most intense at noon and the hours immediately before and after (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.), particularly in the late spring, summer, and early autumn. Although they are less concentrated at other times of the day and year, UV rays can still damage the skin and eyes - even in the dead of winter and on cloudy or rainy days.
UV rays also increase in intensity in relation to altitude and latitude. The higher the altitude, the greater the concentration of UV rays. Likewise, UV rays are more powerful nearer to the equator.
UV rays "bounce" off reflective surfaces - including water, sand, and snow. Thus, a skier, swimmer, fisherman, or beachcomber may be bombarded with UV rays from above and below.
Why does the skin tan after exposure to UV rays?
The skin contains a pigment called melanin. It colors the skin, imparting a wide variety of skin tones.
Melanin blocks at least some of the UV rays from penetrating the skin. After repeated or prolonged exposure to UV rays, the skin produces more melanin. Consequently, the skin darkens, or tans, which in turn protects the skin to a certain degree.
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