Sunburn and Sunscreen: A How To Guide

Our skin is the largest organ on our bodies and it happens to be the hardest working.

After reading that last statement, you might think I have lost my mind because the heart has got to be the hardest working organ, but think about it.  Our hearts are on the inside of the body and protected by the muscles and bones of the rib cage. Yes, the heart is in constant motion, but that is easy. The heart is made to pump, it just happens.

Our skin is on the outside of our bodies and is exposed to every extreme there is. Its sole purpose is to provide protection to the internal organs of the body, as well as regulate the body’s temperature, heal wounds and make sure no foreign items get into the body.

Given all the things that the skin does for us, we should be thanking it regularly and doing every thing that we can to protect it and make sure that it’s healthy.

sunburn treatment

But the sad truth is that we don’t, especially when it comes to the sun. The rays (Ultra Violet) of the sun are very harmful to the skin and can cause cancer.

The sun actually produces three different types of rays that are damaging to the skin:

  • UVA rays cause skin aging and wrinkling and contribute to skin cancer, such as melanoma.
  • UVB rays are also dangerous, causing sunburns, and effects on the immune system. They also contribute to skin cancer. Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is thought to be associated with severe UVB sunburns that occur before the age of 20.
  • UVC rays are the most dangerous, but fortunately, these rays are blocked by the ozone layer and don’t reach the earth.

The good news is there is something that can be done to protect our skin from the sun.


Along with seeking shade whenever possible and covering up, sunscreen, when applied regularly and as directed, is a great defense against these damaging rays.

It is important to apply sunscreen whenever you or your kids are going to be outside. Here are a few tips that you’ll want to remember this summer to protect your skin from the damaging rays of the sun.

  • Sunscreen needs to be replied about every 2 hours for the full guaranteed protection from the sun’s rays, which can cause skin cancer.
  • According to the American Academy of Dermatology, both adults and children should use a sunscreen with at least a SPF rating of 30.
  • It is recommended that babies younger than 6 months be kept out of the sun. Sunscreen alone will not protect a baby that young.
  • When buying a sunscreen, look for one with ‘broad spectrum’ on the label. This will ensure protection from all the dangerous rays of the sun.
  • Apply sunscreen about 20 minutes before going outside.  According to the new guidelines from the FDA, there is no such thing as a water proof or sweat proof sunscreen. If you get wet, reapply.
  • The average person needs about 1 ounce (one shot glass full) of sunscreen to cover their skin. Most people actually use only a quarter of this amount, so use it generously.

Even if you are following all of the rules and applying sunscreen, you are only human and a sunburn may still happen. So now what?

What should do you if you or your child gets a sunburn?

Sunburn is the reddening and burning of the skin that occurs with unprotected, over exposure to the sun.

Sunburn is a temporary irritation but is can cause long term damage to the skin and increase a person’s risk of getting skin cancer, so it is best to avoid it.

If a sunburn does happen, here are suggestions you can do to ease the pain and burning of a minor sunburn:

  • Apply a cool cloth to burning areas or take a cool shower
  • Apply a soothing lotion that contains aloe vera. Try placing it in the fridge for a couple of minutes for more of a cooling effect.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Rest in a cool dark place
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers as needed
  • Do not use over-the-counter pain relieving products containing benzocaine on sun-burned skin. (These are called topical anesthetics.) They can often make the pain worse, and some people are allergic to the ingredient.

If you or your child gets a sunburn, and are feeling well, active, playful, and do not have any blisters, then the above tips will help make you feel better.  However, if you or your child feels or looks ill, spikes a fever, or has blisters, then seek medical attention.

I know that personally, I am pretty good at making sure the members of my family are covered in sunscreen, but I often times I forget myself.

This summer, I am going to try harder at making sure all of us are covered!

About Jen

Jen Mitchell is a registered nurse with over 10 years of experience. She works in Critical Care Medicine with adult patients and wants to help you to understand your body and, in turn, how to take better care of it. Buried with Children Blog | Twitter | Facebook
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  1. says

    Great topic! My kids always get sunburn, especially when we are in a swimming pool or in a beach. And sometimes calling a time out and reapplying sunscreen doesn’t work for very excited kids who just love to swim and get burned in the sun. Thank you for sharing this great info. I can surely use all these tips.

  2. says

    As someone who is somewhat sunscreen-phobic due to my mother’s incessant sunscreen application as a child, thanks for the tips and the reminder to keep lathering up!

  3. says

    Great info! It’s so hard to remember to slather on the sunscreen once we’re out the door. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. says

    My father died from skin cancer from overexposure 50 years ago, the doctors say. You never know what you are setting yourself up for! I cringe when I think back to high school putting butter and crisco on to get a starter “burn”. better believe I am a firm believer in sunscreen now!
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. says

    Great article – thanks for the great info. We also need to make sure the sunblocks we are using are toxin free. Our skin absorbs everything into our blood stream. We need to be careful with the ingredients in our sunscreen. For our kids sake.

  6. says

    Jen, Thanks for this!

    I’m a redhead with very light skin. I usually tan (believe it or not), with a bit of effort. After being the owner of a spa for a little while, I learned quickly from my estheticians how bad the sun is for my skin in so many ways. Now I’m a sun-avoider!

    I’ve since started a new business in which I travel to clients by car. I had NO IDEA that in the summer, in about an hour and a half of travel time in the midday sun, I would BURN IN THE CAR. Yes – I burn in the car. So every morning before going to work in the summer I put on sunscreen and, you betcha, if I don’t re-apply every 2 hours, I get burned anyway.

    So, just a little extra warning for you all – in case you don’t already know – windows are not UV protection, and cars don’t protect either.

  7. says

    Hooray for this post! I’m a HUGE advocate of sunscreen … in fact, I recently mentioned in a blog post about simplifying money (below) that I think sun exposure for the short-term, so-called “gain” of tanning is ridiculous, compared to the fact that it will give you premature aging (at best) and skin cancer (at worst). Thank you so much for highlighting what I feel is a very important issue!

  8. says

    I have had two cases of basal cell cancer and I know the importance of wearing sunscreen everyday. Unfortunately many folks don’t realize until it is too late.

  9. says

    I had a horrible sun burn a few weeks ago (just as Summer started, and I forgot to get the sunscreen on)…a friend told me to use COCONUT OIL on the burn. It worked great! It soothed the burn and sped the healing. I peeled very little.
    I was surprised.
    So that’s my sunburn tip of the day now 😉

  10. says

    I second webly’s recommendation ….. I poured over the EWG site, as well as my friend Katie from Kitchen Stewardship’s posts about sunscreen. We’re using California Baby — it’s expensive, but highly rated on EWG.

  11. says

    I recently opted for mineral sunscreen, Isa Sunguard, because the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released a report finding that over 60% of all sunscreens on the market today contain the harmful chemical oxybenzone to fight sunburn. Also, studies show that it is readily absorbed into the skin, can cause allergic reactions, is a hormone disruptor and may even find its way into breast milk.

    Not only we have to protect our skin from the sun, now we have to make sure we read the labels and not harm ourselves even more.

  12. says

    It’s so important, isn’t it? Thanks for the article. I understand the FDA is changing the labeling requirements for SPF numbers next year, which I think will be a good thing. They are tightening up on regulations.

  13. says

    such great info – our dermatologist said many of these skin cancer melanomas that are popping up over the last 5 years or so aren’t even from sun damage but the chemicals from the products people are using – so important to use something that blocks both uva/uvb rays but also isn’t toxic. The dr. said that truly anything over spf 30 has very harsh things that get absorbed into our bodies and we should not be using it – rather, we should use 30 spf and continue to re-apply. There is also a difference between water proof and water resistant…water resistant is healthier, and again, will need re-applying. But the inconvenience of re-applying is a far better the alternative of getting cancer….something to think about! there’s lots of organic and natural products out there!

  14. says

    Thanks for putting this important issue out there. At the tender age of 36 I have skin cancer. I know cancers will continue popping up for the rest of my life due to the damage the sun has already done to my fair skin. Protect yourself, and please protect your kids. Get them used to applying sunscreen early. They will thank you someday.