Sunburns and Sun Blocks
There are many variations on skin color ranging from albino to ebony. The color of the skin is simply determined by the quantity of a pigment, melanin, in the skin. The more melanin that is produced, the darker the skin.
The skin pigment melanin is produced by melanocytes, which are found in the stratum basale of the epidermis. The number of melanocytes in the skin is very similar from person-to-person, but how much melanin is produced by the melanocytes varies greatly, giving the wide range of skin colors that are seen around the world.
Melanin is the protective pigment in the skin. The production of melanin by the melanocytes is stimulated by damage caused to the skin by ultraviolet A and B (UVA and UVB) light causing the skin to darken or tan. The melanin in the skin blocks and absorbs the UVA and UVB light protecting the layers of the dermis beneath it. Exposure to UVA and UVB light not only causes tanning, but it also causes sunburns, wrinkles, rapid skin aging, and skin cancers.
The ultraviolet section of the light spectrum consists of UVA, UVB, and UVC. Most of the ultraviolet UVA and UVB light is filtered out by the upper atmosphere, but all of the UVC light is filtered out by the ozone (O3) in the upper atmosphere. This is a good thing, as UVC light is 100% lethal to all life on earth. If the ozone were to disappear, and the UVC light allowed to reach the surface of the earth, all life exposed to that light would be dead within days. (As mentioned in the previous WMN this is the technology that Hydro-Photon, Inc. has harnessed to produce the SteriPEN for treating water.)
Skin changes and skin cancers:
Over-exposure to the UVA and UVB light that does penetrate the earth's atmosphere, whether it's a lot or a little at a time, can override the protective qualities of the melanin pigment resulting in sunburn, permanent damage to the skin such as wrinkles, or "age spots," and worst of all it increases the risk of the skin cancers: squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and the potentially lethal malignant melanoma.
So, what do we do to protect ourselves from the harmful effects of UVA and UVB light?
#1. Cover up:
First and foremost, cover up by wearing clothing. It is most important to cover up and protect those parts of the body that stick out and tend to get "fried" in the bright summer and even winter sun. Reflective surfaces such as snow, ice, and water will dramatically increase the quantity of UV rays and the intensity of the skin damage. High altitude is also famous for causing severe sunburns in a very short amount of time. Every 1000 feet of elevation gain increases the quantity of UV light by 4%.
Protect the most vulnerable areas, these include the top of the head, whether you are bald or not, ear lobes, nose, face, back of the hands, back of the lower legs, and all of these at-risk areas also match the parts of the body that statistically are most likely to develop skin cancer. Regardless of skin type and the quantity of melanin in the skin, everyone is susceptible to skin cancer, so, please, cover up any areas that might by subjected to long sun-exposure, such as the arms and legs.
Wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your head and your ears.
Wear SPF clothing-clothing that comes with a sun protection factor (SPF) rating.
Use lip balm or lipstick with SPF protection.
Note: Dermatologists will tell you to wear SPF protection on your face year round.
#2. Lather up:
For the parts of the body that don't get covered up, lather up. In other words, cover those parts with an SPF-rated sunblock.
Sunblocks come in two forms: chemical blocks and physical blocks.
Chemical sunblocks are creams and lotions that contain a chemical that is absorbed into the skin where, by chemically absorbing the UV rays, it decreases their harmful effects. When using chemical blocks, you have to apply them at least 30 minutes prior to the sun exposure in order to give them time to be absorbed; you may need to re-apply throughout the day, and you should use one with an SPF rating of 30 or more.
Physical blocks are creams and lotions that sit on top of the skin - they are not absorbed into the skin. They work by physically blocking and reflecting the UV rays preventing any skin damage. When applied correctly, they are 100% effective.
#3. Smarten up:
It is better to protect the skin then to suffer the temporary pain of a sunburn and the permanent deleterious effects of sun-induced damage and subsequent risk of skin cancer.
Wear protective clothing, stay out of the midday sun, take advantage of the shade, and use sunblocks.
How do you treat a sunburn?
Anti-inflammatories, hydration, and moisturizers.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Any NSAID will help - aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), or naprosyn (Aleve) to reduce the pain and speed healing by removing the toxic free radicals (inflammatory mediators) created by the sun damage.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: The sunburn damages, destroys, and dehydrates the skin. Part of proper care of a sunburn is to rehydrate and stay well-hydrated.
Moisturizers: The skin has been damaged and dehydrated and is drying out, so moisture needs to be added to the skin and kept in the skin.
Aloe is a very effective moisturizer and a potent anti-inflammatory. Noxzema is another very effective post-sunburn moisturizer. Any skin moisturizer should help, but you need to check the label and make sure that it does not contain isopropyl alcohol, as that will dry the skin out even more.