I jokingly refer to myself as having “that Celtic shade of blue” in that I have really pale skin.  I don’t really tan, I usually burn, “tan” then peel… Right back to the original pale white.  The same goes for most of my family: Burn easy, color doesn’t last.  I’ve had one severe sunburn that I can remember.  It was in the middle of summer, at a medieval reenactment event, and I was carrying water to people who needed it.  I forgot to put sunscreen on, and my neck was a deep, ugly purple that evening.  I ended up blistering, and was in pain for over a week.  I haven’t forgotten sunscreen since, and I actively seek out shade when outside.  I never want that to happen again!

Minor exposure to UV rays causes the skin to produce more pigment, which is what causes sun tan.  That “healthy tan” is actually the body protecting itself from damage.  Sunburn happens when the skin is exposed to a high level of UV rays, which causes skin damage.  Sunburn symptoms usually show up a few hours after being in the sun, and takes the form of reddened skin that is hot and painful to the touch.  In severe cases of sunburn, the skin can turn purple (deep red) and blister.  Repeated sunburn increases the risk of several skin conditions, including skin cancer and melanoma.

Sunburn can happen any time the sun is up, even on cloudy days.  The best way to prevent sunburn is to stay covered and out of the sun.  If that isn’t an option, use a sunscreen that has both UV-A and UV-B protection with a rating of 30 or more.  Remember to cover the back of your neck, the top of your head, ears and earlobes, and lips with sunscreen.  Also, if you’re outside, make sure to keep your eyes protected since they can be sunburned as well, which increases the risk of cataracts.

Do not put butter, oil, cold cream or any home remedies on a sunburn.  Aloe vera gel, Solarcaine, or commercial after-sun lotions or creams are fine, and they will tent to help relieve swelling and pain.  Cooling the burn with cold compresses will definitely help relieve the pain. Take anti-inflammatory pain relievers (Advil, Motrin, aspirin, Aleve, etc) to help with pain and swelling.

After a sunburn heals, take extra care to protect freshly healed skin in order to prevent burning it again.  Putting a new sunburn on top of an old one is a sure path to misery.  Trust me.  I’ve done it once.

Mayo Clinic: Sunburn