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Sunshine — like all enjoyable things — has its good and bad sides. Knowing about safe sun exposure can help avoid dangers and prevent burn-injured skin. Burn patients need to be cautious about sun exposure and are generally restricted from any significant sun exposure for one to two years after injury. This necessitates a change for individuals such as landscapers and construction workers who work outdoors.
Newly-healed burned skin is very sensitive and fragile. Exposure of burn-injured skin to any sunlight is discouraged until all the red color has faded. Wounds may turn very dark brown or blotchy even after only brief exposure to the sun. Unprotected skin can experience a slight sunburn in as little as 12 minutes on a summer day. And long-term overexposure may lead to skin cancer even on uninjured skin. Sunburns can occur through exposed custom-fitted elastic garments. Skin covered by a typical summer shirt fabric can experience sun damage in about an hour. That’s because a typical cotton t-shirt has a sun protection factor (SPF) of only seven and offers significantly less sun protection than recommended by the medical community. Furthermore, a typical 30 SPF sun screen, even though it may claim to provide protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays, does not block all the sun’s damaging rays. To protect skin from the sun, The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following guidelines. (Burn doctors’ additional recommendations are in bold type.)
- Wear sun glasses that block 99–100 percent of UV radiation. This type of sun glasses can help prevent cataracts and other eye damage caused by UV rays. When buying sun glasses, look for a tag stating its percentage of protection.
- Wear a hat, preferably one with a wide brim. This will help protect the areas most prone to sun exposure: eyes, ears, nose, neck and the top of your head!
- Put on some clothes! Even if you look great in that bathing suit, throw on a t-shirt! Your skin needs the extra protection. Wear UV sun-protected clothing.
- Always use sunscreen. A sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15, preferably 20 SPF or higher, blocks most of the sun’s harmful rays. Reapply every two hours. When working, playing or exercising outdoors, remember that even waterproof sunscreen can come off when you sweat or wipe off water.
- Avoid the midday sun. The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are when the sun’s UV rays are strongest. If possible, try to avoid these times or at least follow this entire list of precautions! Stay out of the sun for the first 18 months to two years following a burn injury or until the skin has matured.
- Check the daily UV index. The UV index predicts sun exposure levels and indicates what precautions you should take if you will be outdoors. Generally, you can find the day’s UV index rating on your local news or newspaper.
- Avoid sunlamps and tanning parlors. Sunlamps damage the skin and unprotected eyes and are best avoided entirely.
Sunless self-tanning products
Self-tanners work by using the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA combines with protein in your skin to create a tan. Sunless tanning creams are an acceptable alternative to tanning. Do not use tanning creams over grafted or donor areas until the skin has matured, 12–18 months post-graft. Try the patch test, using the product first on a small area to check for a reaction before applying to a larger area.