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Tuesday, July 5, 2022 9:36 AM

How to prevent a sunburn (and what to do if you have one)

MedWatch Today
Health & Wellness

This article was originally published on Aug. 13, 2019.

Fresno averages about 270 days of sunshine each year. That’s 270 days where the sun can damage your skin.

But what actually happens when you get a sunburn? How can you prevent it? And what should you do if you get burned? We sat down with Dr. Luis Dehesa, a dermatologist at University Dermatology Associates, UCSF Fresno, to learn more.

What is a sunburn?

A sunburn happens when sunlight damages your skin cells. When the ultraviolet radiation from the sun hits your skin, it damages the cells causing inflammation or mutations in the cells’ DNA.

This isn’t just surface damage. Sun damage isn’t always visible. But over time sun damage can prematurely age your skin or contribute to skin cancers, including melanoma.

How can I prevent getting a sunburn?

While sunscreen is important, you’re going to need more than sunscreen to really protect yourself:

  • At least 30 minutes before going into the sun, apply 2 tablespoons of waterproof, wide spectrum UVA +UVB sunscreen with an SPF higher than 30 

  • Reapply your sunscreen every two hours

  • Wear protective clothing like hats, sunglasses and long-sleeve shirts and pants

  • Avoid the outdoors when the sun’s rays are the strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

  • If you want to go outdoors, stay in shady areas as much as possible


I’ve got a sunburn. Now what do I do?

You’ve been burned — now it’s time to take care of yourself.

  • First, avoid the sun until your sunburn heals. You’ll only do more damage and make the pain last longer

  • Apply cold compresses to your skin or take a cool bath

  • Try an aloe vera-based gel (putting it in the refrigerator will make it extra soothing on your burn). Vaseline-based creams are not as effective as they seal the heat in

  • Use an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or Naproxen to reduce swelling and pain

  • ​Keep yourself hydrated. A sunburn can dehydrate your body, so you’ll want to drink more water

​See this story on MedWatch Today