Sunburns & Skin Cancer

Summertime is meant for outdoor activities, but when you bike, swim, or play outside, you risk getting sunburned. Mild sunburns are treatable at home, but some are serious enough to warrant medical attention. Severe or repeated sunburns can even lead to skin cancer.

The Importance of Using Sunscreen

One of the most effective ways to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays is to use sunscreen. This product absorbs, scatters, or reflects ultraviolet (UV) radiation to help prevent skin damage.

A sunscreen’s effectiveness is measured by its sun protection factor (SPF). SPF 15 filters out 93 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB rays. It’s also important to block UVA rays, even though they don’t cause sunburn, so use a broad-spectrum sunscreen for the best protection.

When deciding how often to reapply, consider if you’ll be sweating or spending time in the water while outdoors. “Water-resistant” sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes in the water, while “very water-resistant” sunscreen lasts 80 minutes. Therefore, you should reapply every 40 to 80 minutes or immediately after towel-drying your skin. If you don’t get wet, reapply sunscreen every two hours. Be sure to bring enough sunscreen with you that you can reapply at these recommended intervals.

Other Ways to Prevent Sunburns

In addition to wearing sunscreen, follow these tips to prevent sunburns this summer:

  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, and a wide-brimmed hat to shade your head and face.
  • Avoid spending long hours outside between 11 am and 4 pm, when the sun is strongest.
  • Dress infants in protective clothing, keep them under an umbrella or sunshade, and apply baby sunscreen.
  • Check with your doctor about any medications that could make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

Sunburns Can Lead to Skin Cancer

Too much sun can make you susceptible to skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. The more sunburns you get, especially at a young age, the higher your risk. In fact, experiencing five or more blistering sunburns between ages 15 and 20 increases your skin cancer risk by 68 to 80 percent.

About one in five American adults will develop skin cancer, making it the most common cancer in the US. Self-check regularly for signs of skin cancer so you can begin treatment immediately. Here are the ABCDEs of skin cancer to look for:

  • Asymmetrical sides
  • Border with uneven areas
  • Color that’s unusual or uneven
  • Diameter larger than a pencil eraser
  • Evolving mole or spot on the skin

If you have a blistering sunburn or think you may be suffering from heat stroke, seek immediate medical attention at the nearest emergency room. Exceptional Emergency Center is a freestanding emergency clinic providing sunburn treatment in 13 locations across Texas. We accept 24/7 walk-ins and offer shorter wait times than hospital emergency rooms. To learn more about our ER services, please contact us today.