Sunscreen & Sunburn


Attitudes towards sun exposure and public understanding of the associated skin cancer dangers have definitely changed over the decades.   As a child, I remember singing with great gusto (and probably adlibbing when I did not know the words), the song, ’Sunburn’.  The 1979 song by Graham Gouldman, filled the air waves on the radio that summer and for a couple of summers after that.  It was on Count Down and for some strange reason, I felt getting a sunburn was almost a rite of passage or even cool.  Everyone wanted to tan ‘as brown as a berry’ and we were oblivious to the dangers.

Only a couple of years later in 1981, the Cancer Council in Australia launched a campaign to Slip, Slop, Slap.  Slipe on a shirt.  Slop on sunscreen and Slap on a hat.  This campaign sparked the beginning of public awareness in Australia and has grown over the years to include Seek and Slide.  
Seek shade.  Slide on sunglasses.  But despite this growing awareness and knowledge, there are times when we get caught out.  We forget to reapply sunscreen or we find we are out in the sun longer than we had planned and get sunburnt. 

Sunburn is a form of radiation burn.  It is caused from an over exposure to Ultraviolet Rays (UV Rays).  Burns are classified as 1st, 2nd or 3rd degree burns, depending on how deep and severe they are.  Sunburn is associated with 1st and 2nd degree burns.  3rd degree sunburns are extremely rare and may occur as a result of taking medication that increases sensitivity to sunlight.

First degree burns are superficial, effecting the epidermis (outer layer of the skin). 
No blisters are present.  The skin is red, dry and painful.  Long term tissue damage is rare.  Skin colour may darken or lighten.  Mild sunburn is an example of a 1st degree burn.

Second degree burns are partial thickness, effecting both the epidermis and dermis.
Blisters are present.  The skin is red, swollen and painful.


What can we do to alleviate the symptoms of sunburn?

  • Cool the site of sunburn. 
    Have a cool shower or bath.
    Apply a cold compress of water or milk.  Milk contains antioxidants, Vitamins A and D.
  • Pat your skin dry.
  • Moisturise your skin while it is still damp and reapply regularly.
    CPR is an amazing after sun mosituriser and must for your beach/holiday bag. CPR has been shown to reduce the effects of sunburn and reduce inflammation.
  • Drink plenty of water to rehydrate your body.
    Your skin will draw moisture from the body to the site of the sunburn.
  • Do not pop blisters.
    Blisters are a sign of a 2nd degree burn.
  • Aspirin or ibuprofen will ease the pain and help reduce swelling.
  • Seek medical attention if there is:
    • Severe sunburn, blistering and pain.
    • A large area of skin sunburnt.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Altered consciousness or dizziness.
  • Seek Emergency treatment for:
    • Children with the above symptoms.
    • Babies under the age of 1 with sunburn.
  • Prevention is always the best cure.
    Slip, Slap, Slop, Seek and Slide.


Let’s take a look at solariums. 

The UV intensity of solariums is five times greater than midday sun exposure.  Australia banned commercial solariums in 2015.  Brazil is the only other country to ban solariums despite the 2009 report from the World Health Organisation (WHO), International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifying UV exposure from tanning devices as carcinogenic for humans.

Solariums are not safe.  The risk of developing melanoma is increased by 20% with only one sunbed usage.  This risk increases even more, to a staggering 59%, if this one time only use occurs before 35 years of age.  Needless to say, repeated use of solariums increases your risks of developing melanoma even more. 


Some Facts ….

  • It only takes 15 minutes to burn during a summer’s day in Australia. This time would be similar for countries who are the same distance from the equator in either hemisphere.
  • Overcast or cloudy days do not reduce the risk of sunburn. 80% of UV rays penetrate cloud cover.
  • Damage from sunburn, regardless of the severity, cannot be reserved. It is permanent. 
    A burn will heal, but the damage to the skin remains and can lead to skin cancers.
  • The darkening or tanning of skin, regardless of whether there is redness or peeling, indicates the skin cells are in a state of trauma.
  • Peeling skin is a sign that your body is shedding damaged skin cells.
  • Sun damage is cumulative. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, the risk of melanoma doubles with five or more occurrences of sunburn.
  • The long-term impact of sunburn for children and teenagers is more serious. One blistering sunburn during this age, doubles their risk developing skin cancer later in life
  • In Australia alone, there is over 2000 people who die each year from skin cancer. 
    1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70.

According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, the death rate from skin cancer is two plus Americans every hour.  Doing the maths, this is: 2 people x 24 hours x 365 days = 17 520 individuals a year.  This is 17 520 families in America who will lose a loved one due to skin cancer, something that could have been avoided.

  • Risk of sunburn increases with exposure to UV. 
    Statistics show there is a higher risk for males due to spending more time outside during peak UV times and they are less likely to use sun protection.
  • There are three types of UV radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC.  UVC is the most dangerous and thankfully this is absorbed by the atmosphere of the earth. Both UVA and UVB are implicated in sunburn.

There are 500 times more UVA rays than UVB rays in sunlight.  UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, damages the generation site for new skin cells and is responsible for premature aging.  UVA rays also lead to the formation of skin cancers. 


Is the more dangerous of the two ultraviolet rays.  It is responsible for tanning, sunburn and skin cancers.  UVB damages the surface layers of the skin.

How can you prevent sunburn?

  • Remember to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide.
  • UV Radiation levels are independent of temperature. Look for the UV index in your area.  In Australia or the USA there are sites and even apps with this information.  There is a difference between heat and UV radiation. 
  • Take extra care around water. Most Australians get sunburnt whilst at the beach or the pool where shade is not always available.  Water and sand reflect UV rays.
  • UV radiation increases with altitude. 
    It is possible to get sunburnt whilst sitting in the window seat on planes.   
    Winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding pose an increased risk of sunburn because of higher altitudes and the reflection of the snow.
  • Be extremely vigilant with babies and young children. Ensure they are in the shade and that clothing covers most of their body.  Use a sunscreen that is suitable for infants and young children.
  • Sunburn does not only happen at the beach or pool. Being a spectator or playing outdoor sports, driving, picnicking and a number of other activities we do, can lead to sunburn.
  • Check the expiry date on your sunscreen and buy a new sunscreen if out of date.
  • The Cancer Council recommends applying sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outside. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommend applying sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outside.
  • Make sure you apply enough sunscreen. The Cancer Council recommends 5ml (or one teaspoon) for each limb and part of the body (including the face and ears).  This is a total of 35mL (approximately seven teaspoons) for your whole body.
  • Reapply your sunscreen every two hours and immediately after swimming.
  • Choose the highest SPF protection for increased protection.



Enjoy your summer and stay sunsafe!

January 15, 2021