It’s something no one wants in the summer: lobster-red, peeling skin and the pain that accompanies it. But did you know even after these unsightly side effects fade, sunburn's damage to your skin remains? Any time you experience a sunburn, your skin has been damaged by both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, says G. Anthony Slagel, D.O., a dermatologist at Piedmont.
UVA rays break down collagen and lead to premature aging of the skin, while UVB rays are known as “burning rays.” While these rays can give you a tan, they ultimately damage your DNA.
“The problem with repeated exposure to the sun is that the sun damage never goes away,” explains Dr. Slagel. “Your tan goes away each winter, but the damage from the radiation continues to accumulate in your DNA.”
Eventually, DNA reaches a threshold where it cannot take any more damage and it begins to mutate. At this point, skin cancer can begin to form.
Unfortunately, once you experience a sunburn, the damage is done. However, there are remedies for sunburn’s symptoms, like pain and redness.
“If you can, within the first few hours, one of the best things to help reduce inflammation is to take some aspirin,” he says. “Aspirin has a very strong anti-inflammatory effect, which will help keep down some of the pain and redness.”
After a few hours, aloe and lidocaine gels can offer topical relief. Their effects are limited, so reapplication is needed every few hours. Those who experience severe sunburn may develop sun poisoning. “When a person feels sick, it’s the toxic effects of the radiation from the sun,” says Dr. Slagel. “But there’s no such thing as true ‘poisoning.’” Symptoms of sun poisoning are similar to those of sunburn, but also include:
Finding a healthy balance
While proper sunscreen use is crucial to protect your skin, you don’t have to avoid the sun completely.
“As dermatologists, we are not trying to change people’s lives to the point where they are recluses,” Dr. Slagel explains. “We want people to enjoy life and go outside, but we want you to do it with the knowledge that you need to protect yourself, avoid midday sun, reapply sunscreen, keep an eye on your children and just don’t overdo it.”
Learn more about skin cancer prevention.