How to avoid sunburns
Dr. Debra Jaliman is a board-certified dermatologist and has been practicing dermatology for more than 25 years. She has a private practice in New York City and has updated her book “Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist,” which contains advice about reverting sun damage, from how to protect your hands against the sun to turning back time on aging skin. Here’s what we learned from her:
There are three main factors that influence how quickly can people get burned.
Firstly, it depends on the skin type. “If you have blue eyes, green eyes and blond hair and you are very fair, you can get sunburned pretty quickly,” Dr. Jaliman says. “People with very fair skin can get sunburned in a few minutes, and for people with darker skin, it takes longer.” People with red hair and very pale skin lack melonocytes, which are cells that give skin color. They are the group most likely to get a sunburn.
Secondly, your predisposition to sunburn depends on where you are. “If you are in a Caribbean sun, people can get sunburned in even 10 minutes,” Dr. Jaliman says.
Thirdly, it also depends on the time of the day. “When you talk about the sun in the midday sun, [that] sun is much stronger than the sun at 6 a.m.,” Dr. Jaliman says. Therefore, she says, people should wear sunscreen and avoid being outside from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
You can get sun damage inside.
UVA rays damage the skin because they penetrate deeper and therefore can change your skin pigment and quality. Dr. Jaliman says they can cause sun damage, which can lead to skin discoloration and skin cancer — and can even do so if you’re near a window, because “they can penetrate through the glass.” So, Dr. Jaliman recommends wearing a sunscreen if you’re going to be inside near a window.
“You see the UVB rays burn [when you are outside], so you know you are getting sun damage,” Dr. Jaliman says. “But when you are sitting by the window glass, you are getting UVA penetration. And you don’t know you are getting damage.”
Women and men get skin cancer in different areas.
Any area that gets sunburned can get skin cancer, but doctors see women and men getting it in different areas.
“In women, we always see skin cancer on the legs, because we are all wearing skirts and dresses, so in women, legs are often exposed,” Dr. Jaliman says. “And on men, you often see it on the back, because men will have their shirts off in the summer. They have their backs exposed more than women do.”
Follow these rules for applying sunscreen.
We all know that sunscreens are absolutely vital to protect your skin, but that is not enough.
Sunscreen should be worn every day. “I tell my patients it’s always important to put your sunscreen on every morning, and just get into a good habit like you brush your teeth,” Dr. Jaliman says.
When you are looking for a SPF, you want to look for a higher number, but you also want to look for the ingredients in the SPF as well. Dr. Jaliman advises people look for a sunscreen that has “broad-spectrum protection” on it, because it contains avobenzone that provide adequate protection against both UVA rays and UVB rays. Also, retinyl palmitate is one ingredient that should not be in sunscreen. Retinyl palmitate increases cell turnover, which is an effect you don’t want during the day because those new cells can be easily damaged.
Old sunscreens should be tossed away every year. Check the sunscreen’s expiration date, which the bottle is required by the FDA to have.
Unprotected lips, eyes and hands can not only give away your age in an instant, but they can also get skin cancers caused by sun exposure. So they need sunscreen, too.
Make sure you’re wearing enough sunscreen, also. Dr. Jaliman says to reapply every two hours, “especially if you come out of either doing a sport or come out of water.” You should use about a shot glass amount to cover your body, and apply before you put your bathing suit on, Dr. Jaliman says.
“Put your sunscreen on in a bathroom with a mirror so you can look at how you are putting it on, because it’s hard to see what you are missing if you can’t see,” she says. “And if your [swimsuit] stripes move, you can get sunburn. So it’s better to put it on without your swimsuit on.”
Got burned? Use an at-home treatment.
There are many different ways to treat a sunburn — you’ll want to use these remedies immediately after getting burned. The first thing to do, Dr. Jaliman says, is take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (like aspirin or ibuprofen).
”You want to stop inflammation in the skin,” Dr. Jaliman says. “If you are taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, make sure you have food in your stomach so you don’t irritate your stomach.”
From there, make a cool compress for your skin. Try Dr. Jaliman’s recipe: “One of my favorites is taking half skim milk and half water. Skim milk has lactic acid in it and lactic acid is anti-inflammatory.”
You can also use an aloe vera gel to treat a burn. “Use aloe vera that’s unscented, because you don’t want the fragrance in the aloe vera [to irritate you],” Dr. Jaliman says. “And if you are lucky enough to have the plant at home, you can cut the plant, squeeze aloe vera out and put it on your skin.”
Other home remedies to try include hydrocortisone cream and a compress using iced green tea (which is anti-inflammatory).
What doesn’t work.
“People will put ice cubes on their skin and I wouldn’t recommend because [they are] too cold,” Dr. Jaliman says. “You can get a ice burn on top of your sunburn. It’s too cold on the top of sunburn, and it damages the outer layer of the skin. The outer layers of the skin are already damaged by the burn, so they are very fragile.”
If you saw these warning signs, go to see a doctor.
Dr. Jaliman advices that if you have a blistering sunburn, you should see a doctor because that means it is a second-degree sunburn, and you can have more complications, including a skin infection.
Some ways dermatologists heal sunburns.
“We use prescription-strength medication,” Dr. Jaliman says. “We use sulfadiazine burn cream. The other thing we use is prednisone pills to take the swell down. And sometimes we use an antibiotic to prevent an infection. A lot of times, we use special burn bondages.”
It’s better to fake a tanned look than permanently damage your skin.
Any sun exposure, whether it is a sunburn or tan (caused by the sun or a machine) causes damage to the skin. Dr. Jaliman says that “using tanning beds increases your chances of melanoma by a whopping 75 percent, particularly if you are under 35.” Yikes!
It is the sun that makes your skin look weathered.
Many people assume the natural process of aging is the determinant factor that leads to skin changes over time. It turns out, however, that age spots and liver spots are caused by the sun and can make people look older than they really are.
Unfortunately, sunburn damage will last for many months, even though you don’t see it. Prolonged damage can lead to skin cancer.
Some symptoms of sun damage include dilation of the blood vessels, discoloration in the skin, faint red lines, uneven pigment, rough texture, and wrinkles in places you would never expect.
Fortunately, there are products available on the market that can reverse sun damage. For example, Neova DNA Total Repair, is one of the products that can undo the DNA damages because it has plankton, which has a DNA repair enzyme in it.