Sunburn is a very rough, but understandable, definition of a series of problems related to excessive sun exposure in the absence of protection or with protection that is not adequate for one’s complexion . In reality, the sunburn reactions due to sun exposure are numerous and manifest themselves in different ways depending on the skin type, age and, sometimes, even sex.
In fact, the sun emits electromagnetic radiation which, due to atmospheric absorption, partially reaches the ground and is represented on one side by Ultraviolet, UVB (which are absorbed by glass), UVA and sometimes UVC which are, however, normally absorbed by the atmospheric ozone. In addition, visible light and part of the infrared reaches the ground.
However, the irradiation varies according to the season , altitude, time of day, humidity and air pollution. In our latitudes, the spectrum is rich in UVB from 11 to 14 , and the irradiation is maximum in July but the amount of UVA received by the skin is much higher than the UVB because it is present from sunrise to sunset.
To prevent sunburn , it is essential to know your skin type to choose a sunscreen that is suitable for your skin type. In fact, using a sunscreen during the summer, in the city, by the sea or in the mountains , is important to protect your skin from UVB rays, avoid sunburn and prevent sunburn.
Sunburn: what it is
Sunburn is an inflammatory manifestation of the skin due to excessive and prolonged exposure to UV rays, in the absence of sunscreen or in the presence of inadequate sunscreen with respect to your skin type . Sunburn occurs a few hours after exposure and its severity is variable: it can be minor but can become like a first or second degree burn.
Even the parts of the body do not all react in the same way: the eyes, the nose, the lips are more sensitive than the arms and legs.
What is the correct sun exposure
Each person reacts differently to ultraviolet radiation.
Normally your skin (and the whole organism) has endogenous antioxidant systems that are based on the action of different substances (vitamin C, beta carotene,glutathione, zinc and selenium) and some enzymes that are able to transform species reactive oxygen (the famous free radicals) in water.
When too many free radicals are created , also due to excessive sun exposure , these “repair” systems are not sufficient and the cells suffer damage.
These repair systems complement the action of melanin (the pigment that makes you tan) and keratin (surface protein that helps protect against UV rays).
Furthermore, UVAs, once underestimated, seem to assume an importance comparable to UVBs in causing cellular damage on skin cells .
Preventing sunburn: the right time slot for sun exposure
To prevent erythema, the advice is to: gradually expose yourself to the sun , avoid the central hours of the day (from 12 to 16) and apply a sunscreen suitable for your skin type and if necessary an anti-UV shirt , now easily commercially available.
If you are a particularly low phototype or if, for work reasons, you are forced to prolonged sun exposure , the application of creams with a very high protection factor may not be enough, but it would be advisable to use clothes made with anti-UV fabrics.
In fact, these garments show on the label :
- a yellow sun with shading
- the standard number (EN13758-2)
- the protective factor.
The protection factor informs about the amount of radiation that is absorbed by the garment. For example, a factor of 20 indicates that the fabric allows only one twentieth of the UV rays to pass through.
Sunburn represents acute skin damage. Following this damage there is vasodilation and release of substances such as:
- some cytokines
- nitric oxide
All these substances trigger an inflammatory process appreciable with the naked eye with redness of the skin . But the damage is not limited here: the solar erythema is essentially due to UVB rays which, due to their high energy level, induce direct damage to the DNA of the basal cells of the epidermis . Furthermore, by continuing the sun exposure, the UVA also interact with specific skin molecules, inducing oxidation reactions which in turn create additional cell damage.
As we mentioned at the beginning, the sunburn is due to excessive or prolonged sun exposure in the absence of sunscreen or with sunscreen that is not adequate for your complexion . Each person reacts differently to ultraviolet radiation. The phototype allows us to have correct exposure to the sun based on our characteristics and the response we have to sunlight.
The symptoms of Sunburn
The mild form of solar erythema is manifested by a redness that disappears spontaneously after a few days. Scalded skin appears red, hot and prone to itching due to the increased blood supply in the most superficial skin layer. There may be a burning sensation and dry skin.
In the most important forms, when the erythema is intense , it appears as a first degree burn with redness, swelling (edema), blisters, burning, hypersensitivity to the touch and itching . In this case, the skin peels off after a few days . If the erythema is very extensive and intense it can be accompanied by fever, chills, nausea, headache and dizziness .
How to prevent sunburn
In order not to incur the appearance of a sunburn it is advisable to act with adequate prevention:
Wear fresh clothing that covers the skin and protects it from direct exposure to sunlight
use sunscreen with a high protective factor or in any case suitable for your skin type
avoid exposing yourself to the sun in the hottest hours , i.e. between 12 and 15, when the concentration of ultraviolet rays is higher
accustom the skin to the sun gradually , starting with short periods of exposure that will become progressively longer
choose in advance a diet rich in substances that prepare the skin, such as beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C and antioxidants.
How to prevent sunburn: the importance of sunscreen
Solar and protection factors
To prevent sunburn and sunburn , it is essential to choose a sunscreen with the right protection factor , or Sun Protection Factor (SPF). The protection factor indicates the product’s ability to filter UV rays . The higher this number, the greater the protection it provides. In Europe, follow the COLIPA scale for which the maximum protection is represented by the 50+ factor, always recommended.
The degree of protection can be divided into:
| Solar: protection factors|
The degree of protection can be divided into
|Low (6 q 10 SPF)|
|Medium (SPF 1S, 20, 25)|
|phyto (SPT 30, SO)|
|Very high (SPF over SO)|
As for UVB rays, there are also different levels of protection from UVA rays known as Persistent Pigment Darkening ( PPD ).
The European Cosmetics Regulation provides that sunscreen products must protect both from UVB and UVA rays: the UVA protection must be at least equal to 1/3 of the UVB protection.
How to correctly read the sunscreen label
It is advisable to always check the product label . If you find a circle with the inscription UVA , or the inscription “PPD ” then you have the guarantee of protection also from UVA rays.
The filtering system provides for the association of multiple filters because there is no filter capable of shielding the entire UVA-UVB spectrum by itself . Filters can be:
In children, it is better to use physical screens because they are safer and because there are no particular cosmetic needs.
When you read the indication “full screen” or ” total protection” on the solar packs , do not trust. In fact, both the European Cosmetics Regulation and the recommendation of the European Commission on the efficacy of sunscreen products and related indications, prohibit the use of these words because they are untrue .
A 100% protection from ultraviolet rays cannot be supplied by any product on the market.
How to choose solar based on your skin type
The protection factor (SPF) to choose depends on your skin type , i.e. the type of skin , which determines how long you can stay in the sun and what is the best product to choose.
- milky complexion, red or light blond hair, light eyes
- the skin always burns and has many freckles, never tans
- use a very high protection factor (50+) to avoid sunburn.
- fair and sensitive skin, blond hair
- the skin burns easily and suffers from sunburn. In late summer it is slightly tanned, has many freckles
- use a very high protection factor (50+).
- light brown complexion, brown hair
- the skin burns in early summer and can be prone to sunburn, has some freckles. In late summer, it has a medium tan
- use a high protection factor (50).
- olive complexion, dark hair and eyes
- the skin tans immediately and burns slightly, has no freckles
- use a medium protection factor (50-30).
- dark complexion, black hair and dark eyes;
- the skin tans immediately and burns slightly
- use a medium-low protection factor (20).
- black complexion.
- the skin never burns and has no freckles.
The amount of solar to use
In addition to the protection factor, the amount of sunscreen you use counts .
In fact, the quantity to be applied to have the declared protection is 2 mg / cm2.
In addition, the sunscreen must also be renewed every 2 hours and after each bath even in the case of water-resistant products. The skin types 1 and 2 will have to expose himself with caution, always using a protection factor of 50+. While phototypes 3 and 4 can start with a protection factor of 50 and then go down to a 30.
Pathologies and drugs that predispose to sunburn
People suffering from lupus erythematosus and connective tissue diseases must pay particular attention to prevention because they can be more predisposed to sunburn.
However, sunburn can also be triggered by the use of medications.
UV and drug interaction
The interaction between UV rays and some drugs induces photosensitization reactions which can be very impressive. These drugs are numerous, here are the most common:
- antibiotics such as tetracyclines, quinolones and sulfonamide
- antifungals such as ketoconazole, itraconazole and griseofulvin
- diuretics such as furosemide and hydrochlorothiazide
- NSAIDs such as ketoprofen, naproxen and salicylates
- cardiovascular drugs such as diltiazem and amiodarone
- cytotoxic drugs such as fluoracil, vinblastinca, dacarbazine, procarbazine and methotrexate
- neuroleptics such as imipramine and phenothiazines
- retinoids such as isotretinoin.
How to prevent sunburn on the table
To help your skin avoid damage due to sun exposure, it is necessary to increase its natural photoprotective capacity . In fact, this ability is due to enzymatic and non-enzymatic endogenous antioxidants.
In addition, intake through foods rich in antioxidants enhances the skin’s natural defense system . These antioxidant substances are:
- C vitamin
- Vitamin E
The beta-carotene is contained mostly in red and orange vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, peppers, apricots and oranges.
The lutein, zeaxanthin are found in quantity in many green leafy vegetables such as spinach, cauliflower and cabbage. While lycopene-rich foods are for example:
While to take omega 3 fatty acids , you can include blue fish in your diet. Instead, the most active polyphenols are contained in green tea .
So fruit, vegetables, blue fish and green tea are certainly the most important allies to keep your skin healthy.
How to prevent sunburn: supplements for the skin
To prepare the skin for tanning in advance, you can use sun supplements.
These products are particularly recommended for those with a very light complexion (phototype 1 and 2) to prevent the onset of erythema and sunburn.
In fact, solar supplements are based on:
- plant extracts
- vitamins A, C and E
- trace elements such as zinc, selenium, copper and magnesium.
It is a mix designed to activate the skin’s defenses and limit the damage caused by exposure to the sun .
After sun creams
In any case, after a day or a period in the sun, the skin has nevertheless suffered significant damage which normally occurs with:
a more or less intense redness, but still almost always present,
a thickening of the skin (slower but always present UV protection mechanism) which makes it seemingly and realistically less soft.
Rehydrating it, following dietary rules that increase the supply of water, fruit and vegetables, is the first step towards “restitutio ad integrum” of the skin.
However, cosmetic care does not come into the background and hydration with soothing and liporestitutive after-sun creams is essential to restore the elasticity that it has lost to the skin.
Even the cleaning during the holiday season should be more gentle with less foaming products that contain a mixture of detergent oils, perhaps enriched with vitamin E, calendula and glycyrrhetinic acid.
European regulation on cosmetics. European Union Law .