Unlike a raw and red face after getting a deep laser treatment, for example, a sunburn has no benefit for your skin. Sunburns are painful and cause your skin to turn red, blister, and create uneven tan lines—yikes! It is usually wise to prevent sunburn whenever feasible.
It’s always intelligent to prevent sunburn when possible. But why does sunburn happen, what are the risks, and what can you do to stop it? Here’s how to avoid sunburn and how to care for sunburned skin if it does happen.
Why Sunburn Happens
Sun exposure is a natural and normal thing for people to experience. After all, we need sunlight to help make vitamin D, a crucial hormone in our bodies that helps support the immune system and mental health and may even help prevent chronic disease.
However, it is always possible to have too much of a good thing. Getting too much sun can damage skin cells. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays cause cell damage, which essentially causes skin cells to die.
This isn’t the same as burning your skin on something hot—sunburn is a radiation burn from the UV rays. The redness and inflammation come from increased blood flow to the skin, which is your body trying to heal itself.
Even after the skin heals and the redness fades, you still aren’t in the clear. Permanent cell damage can result from even a single sunburn, and mutations to DNA can continue to occur for hours after sun exposure. This is why it’s so essential to prevent sunburn in the first place.
How Much Sun Can Cause Sunburn?
But how much sun can cause sunburn, exactly?
You can sunburn if you:
- Are in the sun without coverage or sunscreen between peak hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (or neglect to reapply sunscreen as needed during these hours)
- Live at a higher altitude
- Use a tanning bed
- Drink alcohol or take medications that make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.
Sunburn can happen in as few as 10 minutes, so don’t assume you are safe to go outside without sun protection for any length of time, especially during the sun’s peak hours or when the UV index is high.
How to Prevent Sunburn
Fortunately, preventing sunburn is relatively simple. It requires some planning and knowledge about the sun’s peak hours and the UV index, but as you get better at protecting your skin and cultivating healthy habits, you can prevent sunburn while still enjoying the outdoors.
Staying covered is one of the most effective ways to avoid sunburn. Cover exposed areas of your skin with lightweight clothing, but avoid those with an open-weave design, such as crochet or lace. Thicker fabrics with a darker color tend to be much better than white or thin fabrics.
Sunscreen is a must for areas of your skin that you can’t (or don’t want) to cover. Select a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 and reapply every two hours or as needed. Water-resistant sunscreens are best when you’ll be at the pool or outdoors for hours and need more robust protection from sweating and water exposure.
Mind the UV Index
Check the UV index before stepping out for the day to tailor your sun protection. The UV index stands for ultraviolet and measures how strong the sun’s rays are that day. Technically, the UV index measures the amount of radiation the sun produces during a given time.
If the UV index is low (between 1 and 2), you may be fine with a layer of regular sunscreen without covering up. However, if it’s at 3 or higher, you may be at risk of burning and you’ll need to use sunscreen and wear protective clothing if possible. A very high UV index (between 8-10) gives you the most potential to burn, particularly during peak hours.
YOU can check the UV index on the weather app on your phone or by looking up the forecast for the day.
Grab a Hat and Sunglasses
Wondering how to prevent sunburn on your face? A wide-brimmed hat can help keep the sun off your face and prevent sunburn. In addition, glasses that offer UV protection can also help protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes. Look for glasses that will help cover the side of your eyes and for those that say 100% UV protection.
Watch Out for Snow and Water
Snow and liquid can reflect the sun’s rays, causing sunburn even when the UV index is low. If you’ll be spending time near water or are taking a skiing vacation, be sure to keep your skin covered and wear sunscreen as much as possible—and don’t forget your sunglasses, as the reflection can also damage your eyes!
Soothe Burned Skin With These Botanicals
If you accidentally got sunburned, don’t panic. The sooner you can take care of your skin after a sunburn, the better. Take a cool shower, and apply some all-natural aloe vera gel liberally to the burn. You should also stay hydrated. Aside from aloe vera, you can also use:
- Rosewater and witch hazel
These can be applied together or separately to help soothe skin and reduce inflammation.
- An herb compress
Try steeping herbs such as comfrey, chamomile, or even green and black tea in hot water. After it cools, use a clean cloth and apply a compress to the affected areas.
- Unscented aloe-based lotion
Using aloe-based lotion can help prevent skin peeling after a burn and potentially help your skin heal faster.
Check Out Our Top Sunscreen Picks
Sunscreen is YOUR best companion when it comes to getting healthy sun exposure and keeping your skin from getting burned. Check out our top sunscreen picks so you can get outdoors this summer without worrying about premature aging, skin cancer, and burns!