We are set for a heatwave this week, bringing shining sun and warm weather.
While it is fun to spend the day outside during the fine summer conditions, it always poses the risk of sunburn especially when the UV levels are ‘very high’ as they will be over the coming days.
And it can be easy to forget to slap on the suntan cream before rushing outside when the sun begins to shine, leaving you at risk of being sunburnt.
What is sunburn?
Sunburn is when the skin is damaged by ultraviolet (UV) rays. It usually causes the skin to become red, sore, warm, tender and occasionally itchy for about a week.
The skin will normally start to flake and peel after a few days and will usually fully heal within seven days.
While sunburn is often short-lived and mild, it’s important to try to avoid it, because it can increase your chances of developing serious health problems, such as skin cancer, in later life.
And it can be easy to underestimate your exposure to the sun, as the red skin does not develop for several hours - by which point it is already too late to prevent sunburn.
How to treat sunburn?
Here is what the NHS says you should do to treat sunburn - as soon as you notice that you, a family member or your child has sunburn you should find a shady area or get inside ASAP.
Mild sunburn can usually be treated at home, the following advice may help to relieve your symptoms until your skin heals:
- Cool the skin by sponging it with cold water or by having a cold bath or shower – applying a cold compress such as a cold flannel to the affected area may also help.
- Drink plenty of fluids to cool you down and prevent dehydration.
- Apply a water-based emollient or petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) to keep your skin cool and moist.
- Take painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol to relieve any pain – aspirin should not be given to children under 16
- Try to avoid all sunlight, including through windows, by covering up the affected areas of skin until your skin has fully healed.
- Apply after sun lotion and cream to the areas of the skin affected by sunburn.
While these are the NHS approved treatments, others have their own home remedies to cure suburn which include tea bags and yogurt...
Some people swear by the use of tea bags, claiming the tannins found in them help to reduce the inflammation of the skin - according to the remedy, you should drop a tea bag in a lukewarm cup of water, leave it for a minute or two and then gentle apply it to the sunburnt area, leaving it in place for several minutes to let it do its magic.
Yet another home remedy is to use yogurt to cure sunburn - apply plain unflavoured yogurt to the burnt areas and leave it for at least five minutes until the pain begins to subside and then gently wash it off with cool water.
This home remedy says you should toss a handful of baking soda into a cold bath and then soak yourself for 20 minutes - bicarbonate of soda is said to soothe skin inflammation and reduce itching.
Apparently ordinary white vinegar is said to be way of treating sunburn because it contains acetic acid, which is also in aspirin, and can help relieve the inflammation, pain and itching caused by sunburn. The remedy says that you should soak paper towels in vinegar and apply to the sunburnt skin, leaving them until they are dry.
Cans of evaporated milk, yes that does still exist, are said to be a way to treat sunburn. You should pour some onto a clean cloth and then apply it to the sunburnt areas and it will provide a layer of protein that will lock moisture in and help to heal the skin.
Should you seek medical attention?
You should contact your GP or the NHS 24 111 service for advice if you feel unwell or have any concerns about your sunburn, particularly if you are burnt over a large area or have any of the more severe symptoms listed below.
You should also see your GP if a young child or baby has sunburn, as their skin is particularly fragile.
Signs of severe sunburn can include:
- blistering or swelling of the skin (oedema)
- a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above, or 37.5C (99.5F) or above in children under five
- dizziness, headaches and feeling sick (symptoms of heat exhaustion)
Your GP may recommend using hydrocortisone cream for a few days (this is also available over the counter at pharmacies) to reduce the inflammation of your skin.
Severe sunburn may require special burn cream and burn dressings from your GP or a nurse at your GP surgery. Very occasionally, hospital treatment may be needed.
How to prevent sunburn?
Perhaps the most obvious way to stop yourself from getting sunburnt is to lather up with sunscreen, in particular one that stops ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays, and also make sure to reapply if you are spending significant time out in the sun.
According to the NHS you should apply around 35ml or 6 to 8 teaspoons of lotion, and do it 30 minutes before going out and again just as you are leaving.
You should also wear suitable clothing when going out in the sun to prevent sunburn, which includes:
- a wide-brimmed hat that shades the face, neck and ears
- a long-sleeved top
- trousers or long skirts in close-weave fabrics that do not allow sunlight through
- sunglasses with wraparound lenses or wide arms with the CE Mark and European Standard EN 1836:2005.
Advice for babies and children
Children aged under six months should be kept out of direct strong sunlight.
- From March to October in the UK, children should:
- cover up with suitable clothing
- spend time in the shade (particularly from 11am to 3pm)
- wear at least SPF15 sunscreen
To ensure they get enough vitamin D, children aged under five are advised to take vitamin D supplements even if they do get out in the sun.