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Sunburn myths and summer safety

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Posted: Monday, May 10, 2010 1:28 pm

Arizona's strong sunlight means "summer" already has arrived and most of us will find our skin more susceptible to burns early in the season. But with the right information, sunburn relief shouldn't have to be a problem this year. There are several myths that exist about who needs sun protection and what to do if you have a burn. Let's set the record straight.

First, a sun tan or sunburn is the skin's reaction to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Repeated or excessive exposure can lead to skin cancer or premature aging. Everyone needs sun protection, so don't believe these myths:

• You don't have to wear sunscreen if you already have a tan or naturally dark skin.

• There is no need to reapply your sunscreen if it is labeled waterproof or sweat proof.

• You cannot get a sunburn on a cloudy day.

It's important that everyone of any skin type wear sunscreen - nothing less than SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 30 applied 15 to 30 minutes prior to being in the sun, and every two hours thereafter. Sun-protective clothing significantly helps reduce sunburn as well.

Second, what is the best thing to do if you have a sunburn? Recognize the severity first. Symptoms of a first-degree sunburn are simply mild, superficial redness that will usually go away on its own after a few days. A second-degree sunburn will be extremely red and turn white when touched; it will exude heat from the surface, and the area will be painful even when not touched. Blistering and swelling may occur. Do not break them open as this can increase the risk of infection.

If you or your child have a sunburn with blisters or symptoms of heat stress (fever, chills, nausea, dehydration, vomiting or feeling faint), be sure to contact your physician or a neighborhood clinic as treatment may be necessary for severe dehydration.

For at-home relief for anyone experiencing extreme discomfort from sunburn:

• Soak a washcloth in equal parts of milk and water to make a cool compress.

• Add oatmeal (1/2 cup) or baking soda to a cool water bath.

• Apply calamine lotion for itching, and aloe to moisturize the skin.

• Cut a raw potato and spread the juice on burned skin.

• Use chamomile diluted in warm water to sponge on the area.

Some myths such as applying vinegar or butter to sunburned areas have not shown to be true and could aggravate the pain.

This year, remember that you are in control and can best prevent sun damage by knowing the right steps to take for yourself and those around you. Don't let a sunburn disrupt your health.


Dr. Sheila Sudhakar, MD, practices internal medicine at Cigna Medical Group in Chandler. Reach her at (480) 821-7565 or visit


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