This is how it goes: you lie outdoors in the sun for that golden tan, but before you realize, you have developed sunburn. This article will give you a comprehensive coverage of everything you need to know about sunburn including the various stages of sunburn.
What Is Sunburn– Meaning
Sometimes referred to as solar erythema, sunburn is the skin damage resulting from excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Sunburn occurs when the extent of exposure to the sun or other UV light sources surpass the ability of melanin (the skin’s protective pigment) to protect the skin.
Your skin type has a significant influence on how prone you are to sunburn and the time it takes you to get sunburned. For example while a dark skinned person may spend a few hours in the midday sun without being affected, a lighter skinned could possibly get sunburn in as low as 15 minutes.
The intensity of the sun will also affect the time it takes to get sunburned. The sun rays are typically strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. Higher altitude and lower latitudes areas (close to equator) are also typically hotter and so are areas influenced by reflections from water bodies, sand (e.g. deserts) and snow.
Children are also more vulnerable to sunburn that adults. Certain medications such as Doxycycline and medical conditions such as lupus can also increase your predisposition to sunburn.
According to the WebMD website, sunburn affects a third of the adult population and nearly 70 percent of children. Sunburn increases your risk for other skin conditions and diseases such as drying and wrinkling, dark spots, skin cancers (e.g. melanoma) and rough spots.
Reddening is usually the most common – and indeed the first – symptom of sunburn. The skin may also hurt.
It is important to mention at this point that although excessive exposure to UV rays from the sun is the most common cause of sunburn, artificial light sources such as sunlamps can as well lead to sunburn. The sunburn may fade away in just a few days or take longer.
Sunburn Pictures- Sunburn Images or Sunburn Photos
The topic on sunburn is as visual as they get and there is no way we would have ended this article without having some sunburn pictures to give you an idea of the various aspects of sunburns.
Our first sunburn image, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows a lady with sunburn sustained on the back. The white area of the photo shows the section of skin that was protected from the sun by the swim suit top.
Here are some more sunburn pictures:
Worst cases of sunburn are accompanied by such symptoms as fever, chills, nausea and general weakness.
Stages of Sunburn
Sunburn is blatant proof that your skin has been damaged by UVB and UVC rays from the sun or other sources e.g. sunlamps as Rachel Newcombe puts it in her book, “Skin Cancer and Sun Safety”. The skin initially becomes reddened, inflamed and painful only for it to peel away a few days down the line.
We can break this down into several stages of sunburn as follows:
Stage 1: The golden tan
After some time lying in the sun, your skin responds by thickening and redistributing the melanin, this makes the skin to develop a golden tan.
Stage 2: Reddening of the skin
At this stage, the skin turns red which is the first indication that it is getting damaged. You may however notice the reddening at first. Eventually, the skin becomes sensitive to the touch. The reddening of the sun is the result of increased blood circulation into the affected area of skin in order to promote healing.
Stage 3: Darkened or purplish red look
At this point your skin hurts and is swollen as a result of edematous reaction. The darkened or purplish red colored areas contrast vividly with the normal areas of skin that have not been affected.
Stage 4: Blistering
This stage doesn’t occur in all cases. It is usually an indication of severe sunburn. This stage of sunburn is characterized by formation of blisters. If this happens, the skin feels sore even without touching it.
Stage 5: Peeling
The last stage of sunburn is always peeling of the upper layer of the skin. This commonly happens after a few days (say 3) but it can sometimes take much longer.
As Rachel Newcombe points out however, even though the problematic skin cells are gone, the damage caused to the skin remains and can set the path for future problems. It is thus important to protect your skin from sunburn at all times.
The best way to protect your skin from damage is by slathering on a good sunscreen of at least SPF 30 when going out in the sun. Wearing long sleeved clothing and wide-brimmed hats is also beneficial as it keeps UV rays at bay.
If sunburn has already happened however, your first course of action should be to keep the skin moisturized by applying a good moisturizing lotion. Vaseline is not recommended for use on sunburns as it can clog the pores and trap in heat which would then further worsen the situation.
Anti-inflammation medications such as Motrin and Advil can also help to relive the pain, but as a word of caution, aspirin should never be used for children aged below 16 years. Cool soaks can also help to relive the burn.
Lastly, you may want to apply aloe vera (obtained fresh from a plant or bought as an over-the-counter gel) to soothe the skin and reduce the redness, pain and swelling commonly associated with sunburn.
So how do you know if you are having a case of severe sunburn at hand or it is just a mild case? Well, the most obvious symptoms of severe sunburn are swelling and blisters.
As for worst cases of sunburn, you may develop chills, fever, nausea, and feel generally weak (malaise); kind of like you are suffering from flu. The blisters formed will also be particularly large. The patient may also experience dizziness and headache.