If you’re dealing with a bad sunburn, you may be wondering what you can do to prevent skin cancer. While any sunburn can increase your risk of getting skin cancer, it’s never too late to take some precautions. By making a few lifestyle changes, you can protect your skin and your future health and minimize your chances of developing skin cancer. Here we will guide you on how to manage and prevent sunburns to reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Does a Bad Sunburn Mean I Will Get Skin Cancer?
Getting sunburned does increase your risk of skin cancer, but no single factor can give you skin cancer. It is the combination of many things that work together to create the perfect storm for skin cancer cells to develop. Along with other risk factors, a bigger predictor than one bad sunburn is having multiple sunburns over time. This means that the more important concern should be reducing your likelihood of getting sunburned again in the future.
Understanding Your Risk of Skin Cancer
Your individual risk of skin cancer depends on many factors. Each of the following increases your risk:
- Blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence
- Multiple sunburns
- Personal history of skin cancer or precancer (actinic keratoses)
- Family history of skin cancer
- Exposure to UV radiation from the sun without protection
- History of indoor tanning
- Male gender
- Fair skin
- Red hair
- Over age 50
While some of these things are outside your control, it’s generally easy to avoid sun damage by minimizing your exposure. Taking steps to reduce your exposure to the harmful UV rays of the sun will not only help prevent sunburns, but also skin cancer.
Most sunburns will heal on their own without you having to do anything. If your sunburn is especially bad, it is best to do the following:
- Get out of the sun as soon as possible.
- Stay out of the sun until your skin has healed.
- If you must remain in the sun, wear broad-spectrum sunscreen that is SPF 15 or higher (30+ recommended) and reapply every two hours.
- Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing that covers your skin.
- Drink plenty of fluids (especially water) to prevent dehydration.
- Take a cool bath to ease the pain and soothe your skin.
- Avoid hot showers, abrasive scrubbing, and harsh cleansers.
- Moisturize your skin right after bathing to help seal in moisture.
- Apply a cool compress to the sunburned area.
- If needed, take an over-the-counter pain reliever or apply a topical anesthetic to help relieve pain.
- Apply a soothing anti-inflammatory cream (such as aloe vera or cortisone cream) to your sunburned skin.
- Do not pop or break any blisters that form.
- Let your skin peel naturally.
If your sunburn is accompanied by serious blistering or peeling over large areas of the body, fever, chills, or signs of disorientation or faintness, seek immediate medical attention.
Preventing Sunburns and Sun Damage
Protecting your skin from sun exposure will help you prevent sunburns and minimize your risk of skin cancer at the same time. Our dermatologists recommend the following:
- Wear sunscreen every day, even on cloudy days.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is at minimum SPF 15 (30+ recommended).
- Apply sunscreen generously to all sun-exposed skin, especially your face, scalp, ears, neck, hands, and the tops of your feet.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, more often if you are swimming or sweating.
- Avoid being out in the sun during peak hours (generally between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
- Wear sun-protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, long sleeves, and long pants.
- Seek shade whenever possible.
- Monitor your skin for changes.
- See your dermatologist at least once per year for a comprehensive skin exam.
By following these simple tips, you can help avoid sunburns and prevent skin cancer.
For more sun care tips or to schedule your comprehensive skin exam, contact Medovate Dermatology. We offer advanced screening with Total Body Photography and mole mapping to help detect any concerns as early as possible. To book your appointment, call 847.499.5500.