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Four ways to get a sunburn, and six ways to cure the damage

While most people understand the risks of sun damage, sun-seekers still make mistakes such as not applying enough sunscreen exposing themselves to the sun’s harmful UV rays.

According to University of Alberta dermatologist Robert Gniadecki, despite the widespread knowledge of the sun’s dangerous UV rays, people still get caught with an unexpected sun burn from time to time. Dr. Gniadecki, who is based at the university's Edmonton campus, shared four surprising ways people get burned:

Foods that increase your UV sensitivity

The natural chemical furocoumarin, found in limes, some types of carrots, celery, dill and other plants that, when ingested, causes the skin to become more sensitive to the sun’s harmful rays.

“And of course, people often fall asleep after having a couple of drinks, which doesn’t help either,” Dr. Gniadecki said in a press release from the university. “A simple thing like sleeping in the sun is terribly dangerous.”

Unexpected weather changes

Weather patterns can change rapidly, and without the proper UV protection, one can quickly become exposed to the dangers of the sun.

“I was on a rainy winter hike in the mountains,” Dr. Gniadecki recalled. “Then the clouds cleared and I was left on a snow patch with no protection.”

More UV than you realized

While many understand the sun’s rays are stronger at the equator than in their backyard, and weaker at sunset than at high noon, what some don’t realize is how ultraviolet light is concentrated when while on water, sand or even snow.

“People often think that in winter, because it’s cold and you don’t feel the warmth of the sun, you will never get a sunburn or you can tolerate more sun,” said Dr. Gniadecki. “You can actually tolerate less sun during the winter because of the reflection from the snow.”

According to Dr. Gniadecki, sun exposure is almost doubled in the snow, compared to being on grass. Sand reflects 15-20% more and seawater reflects 25% more UV than grass.

Sunscreen spread too thinly

When applying sunscreen, individuals need to put on enough to create a sheen all over the skin, said Dr. Gniadecki.

If individuals are using sunscreen that contains titanium or zinc oxide, a white hue should be visible. It is important to use a product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 20.

It is also crucial to reapply sunscreen, especially after getting wet.

Treating a sunburn

Dr. Gniadecki suggests avoiding household remedies such as applying cooking oil, yogurt, or putting lemon slices on the skin, which are not only ineffective, but could also be harmful. To treat sunburn, Dr. Gniadecki suggests the following:

  1. Cool the skin with a damp cloth.

  2. Apply a fragrance-free moisturizer or even an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

  3. Take oral ibuprofen.

  4. Rehydrate by drinking lots of water.

  5. If individuals have small blisters, apply a topical antibiotic to prevent infection.

  6. If the individual is vomiting or if large blisters develop a crust and are visibly infected, Dr. Gniadecki recommends seeing a doctor.

“The short-term effects of sunburn are trivial and you can usually manage them at home,” said Dr. Gniadecki, who is also a member of the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta. “But the long-term effects are serious.”

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