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The best way to stop sunburn

Use our sun safety advice to avoid getting fried this weekend

Published: May 22, 2015 06:00 AM

Summer may not officially begin for a few weeks, but Memorial Day is the unofficial start of sunburn season.

“It’s often the first burst of sun exposure for many people, especially those in northern climates,” says Arielle Kauvar, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine. “And because people are often more lax then about following sun-safe guidelines, such as wearing sunscreen and protective clothing, and limiting exposure during prime burning hours, sunburn is very common.”

That’s worrisome, considering that one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, later in life. But you’re hardly safe from any skin-ravaging effects if you get burned as an adult: A person’s risk for melanoma also doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns at any age.

Get more advice about staying safe in the sun and our latest sunscreen ratings.

Another reason people tend to get scorched at the start of the season is that they’re at their palest then, so they burn more quickly. However, getting a “base” tan is hardly a sound sunburn-prevention strategy, according to Kauvar.

“It provides very little protection from sun damage and further sunburns, and leads to a false sense of security," she says. Plus, a tan—regardless of your motivation for getting it—is a sign of skin damage. The rays that produce skin darkening also stimulate the breakdown of collagen that can cause wrinkling and trigger cell changes that may lead to skin cancer.

The upshot: Whether you’re kicking summer off at the beach, pool, backyard barbecue, or baseball game, you need to shield your skin from UV damage.

Luckily, being sunwise is quite simple. Just use a water-resistant (to 80 minutes) sunscreen, apply it 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure (most sunscreens need to be absorbed into the skin before they’re effective), and reapply every two hours or after swimming or perspiring heavily.

Remember to cover any areas that will be exposed; often-overlooked spots include the back of the neck, tops of ears, bald heads, tops of feet, and swimsuit edges. (Applying sunscreen before getting dressed will help avoid this last one-—but let it dry before you put on your suit. Most sunscreens stain fabric.)

Opt for a broad-brimmed hat and wraparound sunglasses. And if you’re heading to the beach or pool, don’t forget the cover-up!

—Karyn Repinski

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