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Why Sunscreen?

Do I really need sunscreen when it is cloudy?
Although cloud cover provides some protection, the simple answer is “Yes.” Even when it is cloudy, there is a significant amount of ultraviolet radiation that still reaches the Earth’s surface. In fact, the relative risk of sunburn might actually be higher when it is cloudy because people are less likely to put on sunscreen in that situation.

What increases the risk of sunburn?
Other things that increase the risk of sunburn include geographical location and time of day. You have a greater chance of getting sunburned the farther south you go. The risk of being burned also increases the closer you are to noonday. Another thing that increases your susceptibility to sunburn is having fair skin, red or blonde hair, or taking certain medications, for instance, oral antibiotics for acne.

What are the symptoms of sunburn?
Symptoms of sunburn will typically start to show up after 3 to 5 hours of the injury to the skin. The symptoms will be at their worst between 12 to 24 hours after exposure and it typically takes three to four days for the burn to heal. Treatment for mild to moderate sunburns includes cool compresses, calamine lotion or aloe vera gels. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or Aleve will be the most effective to help with the pain. Patients with extensive burns that cause severe pain and other symptoms such as fever, headache, vomiting, or dehydration may require hospital care.

My skin is dark and never burns:
Although the use of sunscreen is more helpful for people with fair skin or light hair, the use of sunscreen is beneficial for everyone. The regular use of sunscreen has been shown to decrease the occurrence of skin cancers, early aging of the skin and benign skin spots caused by sun exposure. To be most effective, sunscreen should be at least SPF 30 or greater, applied 15 to 30 minutes before going into the sun, and reapplied at least every two hours, even if it says it is “water-resistant.”

How much sunscreen do I need?
The amount of sunscreen you use is also important. A good rule of thumb for how much to use is the “teaspoon rule.” The “teaspoon rule” states that you should apply approximately 1 teaspoon of sunscreen to the face and neck area, 1 teaspoon on each side of the torso, 1 teaspoon for each arm and 2 teaspoons to each leg. Make sure that you also cover small areas like the tips of the ears. Clothing with SPF ratings are also helpful at preventing sunburn when not in the water, but don’t forget to reapply sunscreen after taking the clothing back off.

Jared Ricabaugh, FNP-BC

About the author

Jared Ricabaugh, FNP-BC

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