Font Size
A
A
A

Sunburn (cont.)

Sunburn Prevention

The best prevention is to avoid the sun. This is often not practical or desired.

  • Avoid the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and sunglasses with appropriate UV protection.
  • Sunscreens and sun protection
    • Use sunblock. Pay attention to the sun protection factor (SPF) and whether or not PABA is in the product. Some people's skin is sensitive to PABA. PABA should be avoided in children younger than 6 months because it can cause skin irritation. Because of the tendency to produce irritation, most sunscreens no longer contain this chemical.
    • The higher the SPF number, the more protection the sun-blocking agent may have. SPF is actually a ratio of the time it takes to produce a skin reaction on protected and unprotected skin. Thus, a 30 SPF sunscreen would in theory allow a person to be exposed 30 times longer than with no sunscreen. However, this is usually not true in practice because the amount of sun exposure depends upon a number of factors including the length of exposure, time of day, geographic location, and weather conditions.
    • The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a "broad-spectrum" (UVA and UVB) waterproof sunscreen of at least SPF 30 be used year-round.
    • As of 2012 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the industry to label sunscreen to include protective potential against both UVA and UVB radiation. UVA radiation (previously not included in labeling) is responsible for a significant portion of sun damage. Manufacturers are no longer permitted to claim sunscreens are "waterproof" or "sweatproof" or identify their products as "sunblocks." Water resistant sunscreen claims must have information in regard to how much time a person can expect to have the declared SPF level of protection while sweating or swimming.
    • People seldom apply enough sunscreen and rarely reapply it. Sunscreen should be applied in generous amounts in layers and reapplied after being exposed.
    • The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using at least a shot glass worth of sunscreen and reapplying every 2 hours.
    • Use lip balm with SPF 30. Sweating and swimming degrade the effectiveness of sunscreen.
    • Not all sunscreens are water resistant, and even those that are still need to be reapplied regularly.
  • Certain drugs can sensitize the skin to radiation injury. Avoid the sun if taking these drugs. A doctor or pharmacist can further advise you about your medications and sun sensitivity.
    • Most likely to cause sun sensitivity are antibiotics, antipsoriatics (prescribed for skin conditions), and acne medicines.
    • The herbal drug, St. John's wort, is also thought to make a person more vulnerable to sunburn.
  • Mind-altering drugs (including alcohol) can diminish a person's awareness of getting sunburned and should be avoided.
  • Short and sequential exposure times can lead to skin pigment changes, which most of us call tanning. This can lead to increased sun tolerance but can also lead to long-term problems such as skin cancer. Getting a tan is often a primary reason people go out in the sun with maximum skin exposed in the first place.
  • Sunburn is most common in children and younger adults.
  • Avoid tanning beds entirely. Users of indoor tanners are more likely to develop melanoma than non-users. Those who use indoor tanners are also 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/15/2014

Must Read Articles Related to Sunburn

Dehydration (Adults)
Dehydration in Adults Dehydration occurs when the loss of body fluids (mostly water), exceeds the amount that is taken in. Causes of dehydration include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, di...learn more >>
Dehydration in Children
Dehydration in Children Dehydration in children can result from not drinking enough liquids, vomiting, diarrhea, or combination of these conditions. Causes of dehydration in children i...learn more >>
Heat Rash
Heat Rash Heat rash (prickly heat) is a red or pink rash caused by plugged sweat glands. Symptoms include welts, hives (urticaria), raised red bumps, or itching. Treatmen...learn more >>

Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Sunburn (Sun Poisoning):

Sunburn - Treatment

What treatment do you use for sunburn relief?

Bad Sunburn - Experience

Have you ever experienced a really bad sunburn? What was it like?



NIH talks about Ebola on WebMD

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Sunburn »

Sunburn is an acute cutaneous inflammatory reaction that follows excessive exposure of the skin to ultraviolet radiation (UVR).

Read More on Medscape Reference »


Medical Dictionary