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When “Feeling the Burn” is NOT a Good Thing

Sunburns may seem like a given after a day at the beach, but you should really consider them potentially harmful wounds. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in this country, and UV light exposure is its most preventable risk factor. So why, in 2014, did one-third of surveyed adults report suffering a sunburn? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014, over a third of adults reported having a sunburn the previous year.

A sunburn is the skin’s natural response to UV damage and, in the most severe cases, people can develop blisters and need to be treated like burn victims, says Dr. Cameron K. Rokhsar, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine. “The skin sloughs off, (and) if there’s any kind of raw wound, it can predispose you to an infection” and should be treated with a prescription antibiotic ointment, he says.

Remarkably, even just a few serious sunburns can greatly increase your risk of developing skin cancer. A 2014 study found that white women who had five or more blistering sunburns when they were teens were 68% more likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Why do so many suffer burns so needlessly? Perhaps because of flawed knowledge when it comes to sunscreen.

Common Sunscreen Myths

No. 1: Sun protection is important only sometimes.

Sunscreen should be used year-round, rain or shine: Skin protection is vital even indoors. Window glass blocks UVB radiation, but UVA rays can still penetrate, which, over time, causes the skin to thicken and wrinkle.

And it is not just one kind of person who should be concerned with sun protection, says Dawn Holman, a behavioral scientist at the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “We see across the board, regardless of someone’s race or ethnicity, the need for sun protection,” she added.

Some age groups do burn more often than others though. Over half of U.S. high school students reported a sunburn in 2014, compared with a third of adults, according to the CDC. Sunscreen use may play a role in that statistic: The same study found that only 13% of girls and 7% of boys routinely used a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher while outside on a sunny day.

No. 2: I can get a healthy tan.

According to Holman, there’s no such thing as a healthy tan. “We know that a tan is a sign that your skin has been damaged; it’s actually your skin’s way of showing that it’s been damaged and alerting you that, hey, I’ve got too much sun exposure,” she reveals.

No. 3: It’s too late to use sun protection now.

Blistering sunburns in adolescence and early adulthood can increase your skin cancer risk substantially, but don’t let memories of terrible sunburns discourage you from making an effort to protect your skin.

“For those who think back on their childhood and early adulthood and say, ‘Oh, I already got damaged; what’s the point?’ we know that even starting today could still make a difference and could improve your skin health,” Holman says.

Arm Yourself to Fight the Sun

It’s so important to up your sun safety knowledge and SPF IQ by slathering on the most effective sunscreens. But how do you know which actually work?

Luckily, the advocacy group at Consumer Reports has once again released a formal report of the best sunscreens for 2018. In total, the they looked at 73 sunscreen, including lotion, spray, and stick formulas, and evaluated each on two measures: First, the accuracy of the SPF claim, which measures how long you’d be protected against UVB rays, and second, the effectiveness of the UVA blockers, which shield you from the rays.

Here are the top five:

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk ($36) — This lotion topped Consumer Reports’ list for the third year running. As one of two sunscreens to score a full 100, it’s lightweight, fast-absorbing, and fragrance-free.

Equate Sport Lotion SPF 50 ($5) — Who says great sun protection needs to be pricey? At 63 cents an ounce, you won’t feel guilty about slathering this Walmart brand everywhere.

Trader Joe’s Spray SPF 50+ ($6) — This spray is the second (and only other) sunscreen to score a perfect 100. As a bonus, the spray has a beachy citrus scent.

Banana Boat SunComfort Continuous Spray SPF 50+ ($8) — The number two spray with an overall score of 96, this product has a “spray-any-way” nozzle, making it perfect to cover those tough-to-reach spots.

Up & Up Kids Sunscreen Stick SPF 55 ($8 for two) — This one, from Target’s in-house line, comes in a set of two for a great price and protection.

Next time you head to the pool, lake, or beach (or any time you’ll be out in the sun more than 30 minutes) use sunscreen to prevent burns. Choose one with an SPF of at least 30 that’s also water resistant, dermatologists say. Even if you won’t be in water, that tells you how long it will stay on while you’re sweating. If you’re performing extensive outdoor activity, choose an SPF of 50 or higher.

When to See a Doctor

You should seek medical help if you or a family member has severe blistering over a large portion of the body, has a fever and chills, or is woozy, confused, or experiencing nausea. Don’t pop the blisters or scratch the skin—this can lead to infection. Signs of infection include red streaks or oozing pus.

Your skin will eventually heal, but you should learn from the experience. Remember how bad this sunburn feels and commit to protecting yourself from the sun every day, all year long.

If you find your sunburn is serious, don’t wait for an appointment with your doctor or rush to the ER—make a visit to New Bern’s only family practice urgent care facility. Open every day of the week, it’s the smart option for you and your family. You can request an online appointment at, call ahead at (252) 638-CARE (2273), or walk in to the clinic at 1040 Medical Park Avenue.

(Sources: American Association for Cancer Research; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Academy of Dermatology; Prevention Magazine; Consumer Reports, Allure Magazine; and CNN.)