Skin Damage: A Permanent Reminder of Days in the Sun

If you think tanned skin gives you “a healthy glow,” think again. Enough exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from any source, natural or otherwise, causes skin damage–such as skin cancer and premature aging–in anyone. I’ve seen signs of aging and skin cancer in patients as young as their 20s.

Tanning salons do not prevent skin damage. Still, more than 1 million people visit them every day in the US, according to the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Most of these customers are young girls and female teens. Furthermore, government data on high school students shows that about 23 percent of girls and 6.5 percent of boys patronize tanning establishments, as a recent meta-analysis published in JAMA Dermatology shows. The cancer journal study shows an 80 percent increased risk for malignant melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) among white women who got five or more blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20. The same group is also at 68 percent greater risk for basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers.

Protect Against Skin Damage

UV skin damage is cumulative (which means it keeps snowballing from the first exposure) and it never goes away. Sun protection is the best, most efficient way to prevent premature aging and skin cancer. Use broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher every day, all year (broad-spectrum products protect against the UV light that burns and ages skin) to avoid skin damage. Reapply sunscreen it every few hours when you’re outdoors and wear protective clothing. And avoid UV exposure—particularly midday sun and tanning salons.

A severe sunburn is as serious as a thermal burn, and it can cause the same effects–like blistering, edema (swelling from excess fluid) and fever, say the National Institutes of Health.

Relieve sunburn pain and discomfort with:

  • a cool shower or bath (or laying clean wet, cool washcloths on the skin);
  • loose cotton clothing;
  • dry bandages on blisters (if any) to help prevent infection;
  • over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol);
  • cortisone cream; and/or
  • a light moisturizer.


  • give aspirin to children;
  • apply heavy oil-based moisturizers, butter or petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to a sunburn; or
  • use products that contain benzocaine or lidocaine, which can cause an allergic reaction and make the burn worse.

Call your doctor right away if the sunburn causes nausea, fever, chills, or rash; dizziness or feeling faint; rapid pulse or rapid breathing; extreme thirst, no urine output; sunken eyes; pale, clammy or cool skin; eye pain or sensitivity to light; severe, painful blisters.

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