By Anne Wolski
Anyone who continually exposes their skin to the harsh conditions of the sun is running the risk of skin damage known as sunburn. This condition can be quite painful and uncomfortable but, worse still, it can lead to the serious illness of skin cancer.
In recent years, because of the knowledge we now have about the damage to the ozone layer, many people have become more wary about this overexposure to the suns rays. The ozone layer which is the part of the earth's atmosphere that protects the planet from ultraviolet radiation, has been damaged by the common usage of things such as synthetic pollutants. Consequently, these ultraviolet rays are now more dangerous than ever before.
Often, we do not feel the effects of sunburn until several hours after the damage is done. This is because sunburn is actually a radiation burn rather than a heat burn. These burns are caused by the ultraviolet rays from the sun. These rays can damage the skin through penetration without the person necessarily feeling that their skin is overheating.
The skin consists of an outer layer, the epidermis, and the bottom layer, the basal layer. It is the epidermis that suffers the effects of sunburn. This is the layer that contains the pigmentation cells which, when new cells appear as a result of the sun, is seen as a suntan. If there is not enough pigment filters, it results in sunburn.
Sunburn is an immediate type of sun damage but its effects may not show for several hours after exposure. Reddening of the skin and a burning feeling may take up to twenty four hours to occur. If the sunburn is severe, blisters may occur, causing damage to some of the cells in the epidermis.
Sun damage from repeated exposure are much like those of aging. The skin shows wrinkling and thickening of the skin. Lumps that look like warts can appear as well as dryness and cracking of the skin.
In modern times, the biggest concern to most sun-worshippers is that of skin cancer. Realistically, people who have often suffered from sunburn have a higher likelihood of contracting skin cancer than people who have never been sunburned. In areas where there is a lot of bright sunshine, such as Australia, the incidence of skin cancer is very high. In fact, Australia has the highest frequency of skin cancer in the world.
It is extremely important to be particularly vigilant where children are concerned. If a child is often exposed to sunburn, he or she is at a higher risk of contracting skin cancer when they become adults.
Once a person has been sunburned, the most important thing is to avoid exposure which will obviously cause more damage. Applying a soothing lotion can reduce the discomfort which will usually recede within a few days. Once the initial discomfort is reduced, the skin may peel. When the damage is severe, a steroidal lotion may be prescribed. These lotions reduce inflammation as well as the potency and duration of the sunburn.
There are a number of ways to protect the skin from sunburn. The most natural way is to gradually increase periods of time in the sun in order to build up a tan. The sun is also less intense when it is low such as morning and evening so it makes sense to enjoy the sun at these times rather than in the middle of the day when the sun is at its peak. Some people believe that they are safer when swimming but this is untrue. Although the water absorbs the heat, the ultraviolet rays are still directed on the skin.
Sunscreen should be applied frequently during exposure to the sun, and especially immediately before and after swimming. Some of the sunscreens available give virtually complete protection by stopping all ultraviolet rays, thus allowing prolonged time in the sun without resulting in damage.
Of course, not all effects of the sun are negative and exposure to sunlight is necessary for health. It is essential for vitamins C and D and creates a healthy glowing skin.
So, it is important to have some exposure to the health benefits of the sun but, like anything else, moderation is the key. Sensible exposure is a positive way of life but overexposure is nothing more than a recipe for disaster.