University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Warren Piette, MD
Professor of Dermatology
First Published: November 2000
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Warm weather beckons the winter-weary to throw their cares away
and come out to play, but inevitably, some are left with a stinging
"If you're planning to spend time in the sun, you need to know how
to protect your skin from sunburn," says Dr. Warren Piette, professor
of dermatology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and
staff physician at UI Hospitals and Clinics.
Too much sun exposure can cause sunburn, Piette says. "Tanning is
a sign of skin injury whether from the sun or a tanning bed. The most
harmful sun rays occur from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and people with fair
skin are most prone to sunburn," Piette says.
If you're going to be involved in outdoor activities, take
precautions to protect your skin by wearing a sun block, Piette says.
He suggests a minimum of SPF 15 (sun protection factor) with
ultraviolet (UV) ray protection because ultraviolet rays cause
sunburn. "No matter how tan you are, your tan won't protect you from
sunburn," he says. "Any tanning can eventually lead to sun-induced or
premature aging of your skin. Using a sunblock that screens UVA as
well as UVB may decrease both skin cancer risk and the rate of skin
Some researchers have linked long-term exposure to sunlight as a
possible risk factor for melanoma, a form of cancer, Piette says.
"Getting a sunburn does not automatically mean you'll develop skin
cancer, but it surely increases the risk of one of several forms of
However, cancer-related risks involve skin type, inherited
tendencies, and your total-lifetime exposure to the sun.
Lighter-skinned people are more likely to increase their risk of
developing cancer if they continually spend time in the sun without
using skin protection."
Skin protectants are also found in products other than sun blocks,
he adds. "Many companies are developing and labeling their cosmetics
with UV protection," says Piette. Opaque cosmetics, like powders, may
also block out sunlight.
"Protective clothing and hats also block the sun's rays," he says.
"However, light-colored clothes, like a white T -shirt, won't block
all of the sun's rays. If you can hold clothing up in the sunlight
and rays filter through, it will only protect you half as much as
darker clothing." Even shady sandy areas near the water can reflect
the sun's rays and cause sunburn.
"Once you're sunburned, only time can heal your skin. But you can
use moisturizers to soothe the pain," Piette says. "Swelling and
blistering occur in the worst cases of sunburn, and may lead to
infections," he says. Piette cautions against using products with
anesthetic ingredients because the skin can become sensitized to
anesthetics. "This could cause problems if you later need a simple
medical procedure performed under local anesthetic."
"If you have a sunburn that blisters, accompanied by a high fever,
see your physician immediately for treatment," Piette says.
For more information about sunburn, talk to your physician.