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Sunburn is inflammation or redness of the skin caused by overexposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun or to sun lamps. It is more likely to occur in people with light coloured skin.

What are symptoms of sunburn? 

Minor sunburn

• The skin is only mildly red

• There is only mild discomfort for about 2 days.

Moderate sunburn

• The skin is red, hot and tender.

• Discomfort develops in only a few hours and settles in 3-4 days.

• There is some peeling of the skin.

Severe sunburn

• The skin is red, hot, painful and swollen.

• Blisters develop.

• If the sunburn is very severe, there may be headache, fever, nausea and possibly delirium.

What are the trap? 

Sunburn is not caused only by exposure to the direct rays of the sun in the cloudless sky. It can also occur on hazy or overcast days, as thin clouds and light smog do not fully trap the effect of ultraviolet rays. Sunburn can also be caused by rays reflected off water, sand, snow and concrete. Taking various drugs (such as some antibiotics, hormones and tranquillisers) can increase the risk of sunburn.

What are the risks? 

Severe sunburn can cause dehydration and skin loss, which may result in poor healing. Repeated sunburn or constant overexposure to the strong sun causes premature ageing of the skin with wrinkling and can lead to skin cancer.

What skin areas are at most of the risk? 

The nose, cheeks, ears, back of neck and backs of the legs are most likely to be sunburnt.

How can you prevent sunburn? 

• Avoid the direct sun from 10 am to 3 pm (11 am to 4 pm in daylight-saving time).

• Use a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15+.

• Use natural shade. Beware of reflected light from sand or water and light cloud.

• Wear broad-brimmed hats and protective clothing.

• Wear muted colours such as light tan in preference to whites and bright colours.

• Use zinc oxide ointment for maximum protection.

What about sun tanning?

If this is necessary, restrict sun exposure to 5-10 minutes each side on the first day. Increase this by 5 minutes per side each day. Use a sunscreen (not suntan) lotion until tanning is underway.

What is a treatment? 

• Hydrocortisone 1% cream or ointment is helpful for more moderate to severe sunburn. It should only be used in the first 24 hours and not on broken skin.

• Cold compresses ease heat and pain: dip gauze or towels in cold water and lay these on the burnt areas.

• Soak in a water bath containing oil (baby oil) or baking soda. Pat the skin dry afterwards.

• Oily calamine lotion can soothe after bathing.

• Aspirin or paracetamol relieves pain and any fever.

• Increase your fluid intake, especially for severe burns.

• Do not sunbathe until the redness and tenderness has disappeared.