We have experienced the dreaded sunburn once or twice. The itch, the pain, and most annoyingly, the skin peeling. Many people think sunburns only occur on a sunny summer day. What they are not aware of is that UV rays can cause damage even on a cloudy day.

There are two types of ultraviolet rays which the sun produces: ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B (UVB). Sunburns are caused by too much exposure to the sun or ultraviolet light. Our body produces melanin-a pigment which protects our skin, and when the exposure is higher than the melanin’s ability to protect the skin, we get burned. Depending on the severity, sunburns can cause red, painful and itchy skin; as well as blisters, swelling and peeling. If the sunburn is extreme, you may experience fever, chills, weakness and sometimes shock.

Some suffer from photosensitivity, a condition where a person burns easily or develops other skin reactions from sun exposure (some may call it a sun allergy). This can be caused by indoor fluorescent lights and/or sunlight. Photosensitivity can cause red, blotchy, scaly and blistered skin, as well as burning and itching. For photosensitivity treatment options, speak with your physician.

Another condition is Polymorphic light eruption (PMLE), where limited sun exposure causes skin rashes. Normally this affects women from ages 20-40, some children and a few men. This too can cause red spots, blisters, and dry, itchy, burning skin. If severe, please contact your physician for treatment options.

The best way to lower the risk of skin cancer and other skin reactions is to prevent sunburns. Tips on sunburn prevention include:

  • Always wear sunscreen with at least 30 SPF (and re-apply every two hours)-even if it is cloudy and/or if you will only be outside for a short period of time
  • Check the UV index-the higher the number, the higher the risk of damage. If high, wear a sunscreen with a stronger SPF
  • Wear sunglasses with polarized lenses and hats to protect your eyes, face and scalp
  • Wear protective clothing if already burned
  • Put sunscreen and protective clothing on children
  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

To treat or ease sunburn pain, try these few steps:

  • Take Aspirin or Tylenol immediately to relieve pain and swelling
  • Use a cold compress on burn area
  • Apply aloe or solarcaine to affected area
  • Avoid sun as much as possible until discomfort is gone-if you must be in the sun, apply sunscreen and wear protective clothing

The top recommended sunscreens include:

  • Banana Boat Ultra Defense Maximum Skin Protectant SPF 110
  • BullFrog Water Armor Sport InstaCool SPF 50
  • Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50
  • Neutrogena Ultimate Sport SPF 70
  • Target Up & Up Spray Sport SPF 50
  • Walgreens Well Sport SPF 50
  • Wal-Mart Equate Ultra Protection SPF 50

Protecting your skin and eyes from the sun is important, even on a cloudy day. If you are concerned about any changes to your skin or vision, schedule a check-up with your physician.