Too much exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, sunlamps, or tanning beds produces sunburn. The most common symptom of sunburn is red, swollen, and painful skin that can blister. If the sunburn is severe and covers a large portion of your body, you may also experience chills, fever, nausea, and vomiting. Repeated sun exposure also can produce harmful long-term effects, including wrinkling, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer (see page 428). The most serious type of skin cancer, malignant melanoma (see page 428), is often fatal.
People who are most likely to be sunburned and who are most at risk for sun-induced skin cancer are those with fair skin, blue eyes, and red or blond hair, although anyone who spends time outdoors is at risk. The more sun exposure you receive, the more your skin is damaged. Certain medications—such as the antibiotic tetracycline, some diuretics (water pills), some tranquilizers, birth control pills, and over-the-counter antihistamines—make the skin more sensitive to the sun, increasing the likelihood of being sunburned. You are at risk for sunburn even on cloudy days; clouds do not block sunlight—they merely scatter the sun's rays.
There are a number of simple steps you can take to protect yourself from the harmful rays of the sun. Try to plan outdoor activities for early in the morning or late in the afternoon so you can avoid being in the sun between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, when the sun's rays are strongest. When you are out in the sun, use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher that protects against both ultraviolet A (UV-A) and ultraviolet B (UV-B) rays. The lighter your skin, the higher the SPF number should be. Generously apply the sunscreen to all exposed areas of your skin at least 30 minutes before going outdoors so that it has time to be fully absorbed. Always reapply sunscreen immediately after 417
swimming or every few hours if you are perspiring. Remember to put sunscreen Skin and on your ears, the back of your neck, and any bald spots on your head. Use a lip Hair balm that contains sunscreen. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, and always wear sunglasses that filter at least 90 percent of both UV-A and UV-B rays. Check labels for this information when you are shopping for sunglasses.
If you get a sunburn, cover the burned area with cool, clean, wet cloths or gauze, or take a cool bath or shower. Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug such as aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve pain, fever, and inflammation. Do not use a spray that numbs the burned area because it may cause an allergic or irritant reaction. Drink plenty of liquids and rest in a cool room for several hours. Before you expose your skin again, make sure that the inflammation is gone, and put extra sunscreen on the previously burned areas so you do not get burned again.
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