Mother applying suntan lotion on daughter face

Sun protection and treating sunburn

The importance of sun protection

Sunburn can occur in as little as eleven minutes even on cloudy days!

We have all experienced being sunburnt at least once in life, but we should take every step to avoid it as skin cancers caused by sunburn still count as one of the highest cancers being diagnosed each year in Australia.

So what exactly is sunburn and what can be done to treat sunburn?

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What is sunburn?

Sunburn is when our skin reacts after being overexposed to high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, burning our skin and causing it to turn red within two to six hours after exposure. From UV radiation exposure, more melanin will be produced. Melanin are  the skin cells in the top layer of skin that produce colour. This makes the skin either darker in colour or red. A tan may look nice but it isn’t healthy because the skin has been damaged from UV radiation. 

Additionally, sunburn can be mild or severe. When it is mild it can be looked after at home with remedies listed below. Although when severe, you will need to go to a hospital if you have burnt a large area of skin and are experiencing extensive blistering, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting or dizziness. 

Despite sunburn occurring easily, it does not heal quickly. The time it takes to heal depends on the area of skin and size of sunburn.

Symptoms of sunburn include:

  • Changes in skin colour ranging from red to purple
  • Hot sensation when touching the skin
  • Pain and or itching
  • Swelling
  • Fluid-filled blisters that peel to reveal tender skin 
  • Peeling skin

So what can we do to prevent getting sunburnt?  

To prevent sunburn, you should:

Slip a long sleeve on

Slop a 50+ SPF sunscreen on 

Slap on a hat 

Seek shade 

Slide on some sunnies

Combining these actions daily will help you reduce your risk of getting sunburnt. 

SunSmart has this handy visual explaining the UV index and the levels of sun protection needed.

sunsmart guide to sun protection and the uv index

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The Cancer Council recommends strongly that you apply sunscreen on days where the UV index is forecasted to be higher than 3. They also recommend applying at least 7 teaspoons of sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure and reapplying two hours or sooner if you are swimming or working out.

To treat sunburn you should: 

  • Apply aloe vera generously numerous times a day
  • Stay hydrated 
  • Gently apply cool or cold compresses – shower with cold water 
  • Avoid using fragrant irritable soaps on the skin 
  • Don’t pop blisters or peel the skin 
  • Apply moisturisers if too painful 
  • Take OTC pain relief medicine if too painful 
  • Avoid the sun until the sunburnt area of skin has healed completely. 

 If your skin begins to peel as it heals, allow the skin to detach itself naturally and apply an antiseptic cream to the area of new skin to avoid and lower the risk of infection in the area. 

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