Sunbathing without regrets
Fire-red skin, itching, and incredible pain! Dreaded sunburn can often be discovered only several hours after a pleasant sunbathing session and later causes regrets. What can be done to relieve the unpleasant symptoms and – above all – to best avoid a repetition?
At the latest when we feel a burn, that's when we notice that our stay in the sun may have been too intensive. The range of sunburns runs from a slight redness to blistering. No matter how severe it is, sunburn is always a burn – an inflammatory reaction of the skin to too much sun exposure. Relief is needed before delving into research regarding causes.
The most important thing now is avoiding the sun and staying indoors or covering the affected area of the skin very well. Many people take painkillers, apply sun screen, and continue to sunbathe. It's hardly possible to do anything worse for your skin. Attention: reddened areas should be covered even in the shade.
Applying oils or oil-based salves should also be avoided at all costs, as it obstructs the respiratory ability of the damaged skin and provokes the accumulation of heat. Cooling gels and after-sun lotions can provide momentary relief but cannot repair the skin. Special salves with added cortisone should be handled with necessary care. If the sunburn is very severe and forms blisters, a doctor's visit is definitely required.
There are also a few highly effective natural methods for sunburn relief. First and foremost is one of the world's oldest medicinal plants: Aloe Vera is an expert for skin problems, so to speak. It is refreshing, cooling, and soothing to relieve discomfort, but it particularly also accelerates the healing process of damaged skin. It performs miracles when applied several times daily.
Sodium hydroxide carbonate, better known as "baking soda" and available in every supermarket, is another – often forgotten – household remedy. The alkaline powder calms sunburn and is a true first aid measure. To use it, mix a teaspoon of powder with one litre of water and soak cloths, which are placed on the affected areas. This might even be a whole t-shirt, for example to reach extensively damaged areas on shoulders and the upper body.
A well-balanced stay in the sun is recommended to prevent sunburn in the first place, as well as some preparation. It's always best to slowly expose skin to the sun in small doses. But take care! Tans from a solarium are nearly useless. True sunlight consists of UV-A and UV-B rays, the latter of which enhances the skin's ability to protect itself. Artificial suns contain nearly no UV-B but often more than 1000 times the UV-A rays, which are responsible for the immediate tanning of the skin. The effect is not very permanent on the one hand, and on the other hand it offers no protection against sunburn.
However, quite a bit of prevention is attributed to nutrition. Carotenoids, for example, are plant compounds that are deemed to be an excellent preparation for sun exposure. They are contained in red and orange coloured fruits and vegetables, for example carrots, peppers, tomatoes, pink grapefruit, or papayas. But they are also contained in green vegetables, for example in spinach, cabbage, lamb's lettuce, or dill.
Astaxanthin is a special carotenoid, to which a very high effectiveness has been attributed and which is contained in algae as well as pink-coloured fish and seafood. In wild salmon, for example, but not in the cultured variety, which is fed artificial Astaxanthin and which does not have the same effect.
A skin-strengthening effect in preparation of sun exposure is also attributed to phytochemicals like polyphenols, which are contained in green tea, for example. Resveratrol from red wine has a similar effect.
Not without my sun screen
How long a stay in the sun can be without causing unpleasant consequences depends on several factors. The personal, intrinsic protection time is the first important aspect – the time that one can be in the sun without protection – depends on your skin type. For type 2 (Nordic type), this is about 10 to 20 minutes. Of course, the respective current sun intensity level also plays a role. The radiation is stronger at noon than in the morning; and near the equator it is many times more intensive than in Central Europe, for example. The third factor is the sun protection factor of the sun screen used, which provides a general orientation as to how long one's intrinsic protection can be extended. For example: type 2 with an intrinsic protection time of approximately 10 minutes applies an SPF 15, and so has a reference value of 150 minutes (10x15), during which risk-free sunbathing is likely. By the way: it's recommended to only utilize 60 percent of this reference value, as the aging process of the skin has already started in the background after that time.
It is also important to know that the SPF of many sun screens pertains only to UV-B rays – the main cause for sunburn. If a UV-A filter is included, this must be separately stated on the package. A scrutinizing look at the list of ingredients prior to purchase is therefore worthwhile.
Extremely high SPFs of approx. 80 are also very misleading, as they suggest a correspondingly higher efficacy. SPF 80 blocks 99% of UV-B rays, SPF 40 blocks approximately 97% – not half! SPF 20 to SPF 40 is quite sufficient for most people.
Applying a sufficient amount of sun screen is much more important. For a whole body this amounts to 3 to 4 tablespoons on average – quite a bit! It's also important to renew the application approximately once every two hours or even more often with frequent stays in the water.
Despite all risks and preventative measures we shouldn't forget that sunlight has a healing and therapeutic effect. It's essential and responsible for the formation of Vitamin D, which protects against diseases. When it comes to enjoying the sun – as is so often the case – the dose alone makes the poison.