Sunburn is a very common and painful skin inflammation which results from exposure of unprotected skin to ultraviolet light. This is usually from the sun’s rays, but any ultraviolet light can produce peculiar burning. It can vary from a simple reddening of the skin to extreme blister formation with subsequent peeling of large sheets of skin one to ten days after.

Severe cases can produce marks on the body but this is not usual. Some people are abnormally sensitive to light. Blonds and redheads are more sensitive than average to ultraviolet light and should take extreme precautions when outdoors during the summer.Sunburn is an entirely preventable disorder.

Sensible persons take precautions when the summer months arrive. By using a protective tan lotion on exposed parts, hazards of sunburn are minimized. Although the precautions are known to nearly everybody, very few heed the warnings. For this reason, countless thousands seek treatment for sunburn at the start of every summer surfing season. It is now well documented that regular exposure to the sun predisposes to us skin cancer. Due to our light colored complexions, our hot climate and enthusiasm for exposure to the sun, Australians have the world’s highest incidence of skin cancers, including the lethal one called malignant melanoma. For this reason, current views are that lengthy exposure to the sun is not a great idea, and this extends to infants as well as adults.

Sunburn too, especially when acquired predisposes the cells of the skin to malignant changes, and is a potent cause of skin cancer in later life. It is essential that young people and parents of children remember this, and limit their exposure and particularly the incidence of sunburn, which is preventable. The worst time to become burnt is between the hours of eleven am and three pm in timer months. Take care to protect yourself during these high “at risk” times today will effectively reduce the risk of skin cancer tomorrow (or when you reach your forties).

Prevention is always better than cure, and the application of a sun-screening lotion of the required ‘factor” will help one avoid the risk of sunburn.

How to Prevent Sunburn

Protective Tan

Start several weeks before summer has arrived if you are planning on regular trips to beaches, swimming centers, or to open picnic grounds where exposure to the sun is inevitable. Spend five minutes front and back exposure to the morning rays. Increase this by one to two minutes each day. In this way an even, protective tan will soon cover all exposed parts. Before the season has arrived, you will be adequately protected, and chances of burning become minimal. Use of oral medication Trioxysalen two hours before exposure may rapidly increase the rate of tanning. This should be taken only under medical supervision.

Avoid overexposure. If you do not have a protective tan, be very careful the first several days of exposure. Ten to fifteen minutes is usually sufficient. Children burn very easily, and special precautions must be taken to avoid serious burning. Protective covering is essential to all exposed parts, and headgear is advisable. Under no circumstances allow them (or yourself) to lie in the hot sun uncovered for hours. It may be disastrous. Yet this happens every summer to foolish people who live in agony for many days afterwards.


Ultraviolet waves bounce back from reflecting surfaces. Even on dull days, masses of clouds, open sea (at beaches, near lakes, on boats) and expanses of sand are major reflectors and can cause severe burning even though there may be overhead protection.

Ultraviolet Screeners

Many excellent commercial preparations are available and effectively screen out ultraviolet rays. Most are soluble and must be reapplied frequently to all exposed parts of the skin, and always after immersion in water. Sunscreens today are given a “factor” and the higher the factor, the greater is its ability at screening out harmful rays. Factor 15 is usually recommended. A good product is “Sunsense, Factor 15”, developed and manufactured by a Melbourne company specializing in skin-care products. It is claimed to screen out both ultraviolet rays as well as B rays, and also infra-red rays, all of which are said to cause burning and skin damage. Many forms are available, including lotion, milk and cream. Reapply frequently. Follow instructions on the label. Many other very effective lines are available, such as “Blockout”, “Uvistat”, and “Hamilton Sunscreen Broad Spectrum Cream.” “Blockout”, “Uvistat” and “ICI Ultraviolet Cream” are some of the less expensive products.

Para-aminobenzoic acid, ten percent in hydrophilic ointment, red veterinary petrolatum or Menthyl anthramilate five per cent and others are also available. If there is any uncertainty, check with your pharmacist. The important point is to use the product that suits you on a regular basis until your own skin pigmentation is sufficiently advanced to offer protection.

If you forget this advice, haven’t time, or simply can’t be bothered and get sun burnt then this is the routine to follow: Rest. If burning is extensive, resting a day or two is advisable, particularly if it constitutes symptoms such as pain, gastric upset, fever or burning occur.

Take cool, wet soaks. Frequently apply cool water in the form of wet packs or soak a soft towel in cold water then wring it out and place it over the bare area to get soothing relief. Replace often and repeat every hour or two. Fluid replacement is advisable so drink plenty of fluids. Fruit juices are excellent, but water or lemonade with added glucose plus salt is satisfactory. Leave blisters intact as bursting them can leave way open to infection that will aggravate, cause discomfort and delay healing. Physicians prefer to release the fluid leaving the skin intact.

Pain Relief

As pain is usually severe relief may be obtained by Paracetamol tablets, two tablets for those twelve years of age and over, every three to four hours are effective. Alternatively, aspirin in any form or otherwise 2 x 300 mg every three to four hours are similarly effective. Halve this dose for children aged six to twelve years. Children under should be given paracetamol elixir. This is usually on the bottle, which is available from a pharmacist. It is best take with food, as it may be nauseating given the Antihistamines. Some doctors frequent use of antihistamine preparations help prevent the skin reaction and discomfort soon after exposure.

Resist local applications, these contain local anesthetics, and seldom offers little relief. Do not waste you money purchasing them. Greasy applications may block the sweat ducts and do more harm than good. The simple precautions mentioned are far better. Do not apply to the ultraviolet screeners mentioned earlier. They are very effective in preventing sunburn but not for treating.

Further Treatment

Although routine cases of sunburn can be effectively treated at home, occasional instances require the doctor. This will involve cases where extensive areas are burnt, where major blistering has taken place, where widespread constitutional symptoms have set in, and where there is extreme pain and infection where children are affected. Under these circumstances, see your physician. Sometimes further therapy is required particularly with those who are light sensitive. Patients under medication may acquire a high degree of sensitivity to light and so be at special risk when outdoors. Short courses of steroid preparations are necessary in treatment.

In conclusion, it is to be emphasized that the use of ultraviolet lamps to acquire a suntan is not recommended. Despite advertisements to the contrary, it is very difficult to acquire an even tan in this manner. Many instances of burning have been reported. Use the sun itself, sensibly and as suggested. This is economical and can produce excellent results!

Apart from avoidance in the first case, application of cool packs is the best starting point. Repeat these often, using small folded towels placed in icy water wrung out, then placed over the burnt places. Plenty of fluids, ideally fresh fruit juices, will replace fluid loss. Add some vitamins. Paracetamol elixir is best for fevers and pain reduction. The dose will usually be printed on the label. Do not place skin applications on sunburn, for they may sensitize it, and seldom help. Avoid them, despite what your friends may say. Apply ultraviolet screeners to protect against sunburn, but after the event, they are useless.