Browning in the sun can be fun and is fashionable, but do take sensible precautions. Over-exposure can result in serious skin damage and ruins its appearance in later life.
Unless you follow some commonsense rules as you tan, the short-term result is burning and blistering – both uncomfortable and usually painful.
Long-term results can be much more serious. Over-exposure to the sun causes the skin to become leathery, wrinkled, and crinkly. The risk of skin cancer is high.
So be kind to be your skin this summer. If you’re fair-skinned, blonde, red-head, or a “freckle type” be even more wary – you’re at greater risk than those who are darker-complexioned or have olive skins.
Apart from the direct effect of the sun on exposed skin, people on drug medication can run into unexpected trouble. Certain sensitive individuals may slitter from “photosensitivity,” which means certain parts of the body are more readily affected by sunlight than others. These parts may redden and become severely burnt from a degree of exposure that normally would do no harm.
Among the medications that have produced this problem in some patients are sulfonamide drugs, various antibiotics, anti-diabetic pills, certain diuretics, and tranquilizers. Many go scot-free, others not. So, if you’re on doctor-prescribed drugs, go easy on exposure to the hot sun, especially on midsummer days when the rays are at their fiercest.
It’s sensible to spend a bit of time browning in advance. The simplest and most effective way is to expose the front and back for one minute a day.
Increase this period by a minute a day until your sunning time is 15-20 minutes. This usually ensures an even golden tan that generally defies (or greatly reduces) subsequent risk of burning.
But many begin their sun-baking lily-white, and at the hottest part of the year, when their holidays begin. If you’re one of these, take it easy for the first few days. Liberally apply an ultra-violet screener to all the exposed areas.
Various commercial products have been in use over the years. It is quite well established now that those containing 5 percent para-amino-benzoic acid in 70 percent alcohol give the best protection. Many readily-available products in the U.S. contain this.
However, it is by no means foolproof. Even if the skin is deluged with this, and long hours of exposure follow, sunburn can result.
Re-applying the products often throughout the day is a good idea. Many are in a soluble base and can quickly wash off in the water. So re-application after each dip is often essential.
Some products have a more tenacious base and tend to stick for a longer period of time, but there is no point in tempting fate. The outcome may be too painful.
The substance that gives the best protection against skin burn is called melanin. This naturally occurs in the upper cell layers of the skin. When exposed to ultraviolet light (a key ingredient in normal sun’s rays) it turns brown, giving the traditional highly-prized “bronzing” that everybody seems to strive for in summer.
It has recently been found that a new drug called trioxsalen seems to have the ability to increase the melanin in the cell layers. It is being used for people with a skin disorder called vitiligo, who have white spots and patches that defy browning, and – while the rest of the body turns a darker shade – stand out more vividly, often causing embarrassment.
Trioxsalen belongs to a family of drugs called the psoralens, which have their origin in a plant root long known to the ancient Egyptians. They used it to darken the skin and avoid burning.
It recently became available in the U.S. It is a National Health Service (pharmaceutical benefit) item, but only for the treatment of vitiligo.
No doubt many will use it in an effort to increase the intensity and speed of turning brown. Warning: after taking the tablets, exposure to the sun must be gradual and the procedure must be under medical supervision.
For certain patients who are reacting adversely to the sun following drug intake, doctors can prescribe medication to reduce or nullify the sudden reaction. But, again, this is in the realm of doctor-prescribed medication. Anybody regularly taking drugs for an illness should consult the doctor about surfing and sun-baking, especially if the skin is still a brilliant white.
A little-appreciated fact is the effect the wind can have on the skin. So many people have been severely burnt on dull days that the British Medical Journal ran a leading article about the hazards of wind on exposed skin.
The sun can do so much harm by burning. But if this is accompanied or followed by the wind then the burning may be much more severe.
So be especially careful is there is a gentle, refreshing breeze blowing, even though it may seem pleasant at the moment.
There’s another trap, one which applies particularly to those who love boating and yachting. A cotton T-shirt that becomes saturated with water offers little protection against burning. Water tends to absorb certain light waves, and severe burning may result despite the apparent protection.
Treating sunburn is never satisfactory. Mild burning often does well with a hot bath or shower that afternoon or night. This may relieve the immediate sting.
Dab dry with a soft towel. Do not rub, for this will worsen the injured areas.
Applications are usually useless at this stage, and only make a sore spot messy. If the sunburn is painful, simple paracetamol tablets can give relief.
If blistering develops, stay in bed for a few days. Frequent applications of cool-icy water packs often give some relief.
Drink lots of fluids. Water is the best. Fruit juices are suitable. Spike with glucose (powdered form) and add some salt. This replaces what is being lost.
Don’t fiddle with the blisters. If the infection gets into them, they will take much longer to heal. Severe forms of burn, particularly where there is an infection, may require the doctor.