The INSIDER Summary:
- Exposure to UV radiation from the sun causes tans and burns.
- It also makes your skin age faster and ups the risk for skin cancer.
- Tans, burns, blisters, and flu-like symptoms of sun poisoning all indicate that you've gotten too much sun.
Nobody wants to get an angry, throbbing sunburn when they spend a day outside. Most people know that the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation can make you look older and increase your risk of getting skin cancer.
Still, even the best of us can succumb to long beach naps or forget to reapply sunscreen every two hours. Sometimes we don't even realize that we're burned until we get home, look in a mirror, and find ourselves a lobster-esque shade of red.
But red skin isn't the only indication that your skin has been damaged by UV radiation. Here are the four signs to look out for after you've been in the sun:
1. You're tan.
That "healthy glow" you get from a tan is actually not so healthy: Dermatologists say there is so such thing as a safe tan. Whether it comes from the sun or an indoor tanning booth, a tan is the body's response to damage caused by the sun's UV radiation, says the American Cancer Society. Your skin cells react to that damage by producing more melanin, the pigment that makes your skin look darker.
Indoor tanning may be even worse than a natural tan, since the amount of UVA radiation emitted by tanning bulbs can be up to 12 times higher than what you'd get from real sunlight. And people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk of melanoma — the most dangerous type of skin cancer — by 75%.
The only truly safe tan is a fake one.
2. You have a sunburn.
You don't need to be a scientist to know that a sunburn means you've had too much sun exposure.
A burn starts when UV radiation damages the DNA of your skin cells. As a result, the body scrambles to repair the damage. The blood vessels dilate, increasing blood flow to the skin, and the immune system sends out inflammatory cells. This chain reaction leads to the familiar swelling, heat, pain, and redness of a burn.
Even after a burn heals, some of those cells with damaged DNA can stick around and may lead to skin cancer — in fact, a history of sunburns is a risk factor for developing skin cancer, according to the CDC.
Just remember that it can take a long time — even hours — for the first signs of a sunburn to show. Just because your skin feels fine while you're outside, doesn't mean it hasn't been damaged.
3. Your skin is blistering.
Blistering means that you have a more severe second-degree sunburn, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) explains.
Blisters form to protect your skin from infection and help it heal, so you shouldn't pop them. Instead, follow the usual protocol for sunburn treatment recommended by the AAD: Take cool baths or showers, use a moisturizer with soy or aloe vera, consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen, drink extra water, and make sure to cover burned skin with clothing if you have to go outside again.
4. You feel like you have the flu.
Sometimes a sunburn is so bad, your entire body reacts. It's a phenomenon usually called sun poisoning, though it doesn't actually mean you've been poisoned.
Sun poisoning is an extreme sunburn that can be accompanied by symptoms like nausea, vomiting, chills, fever, headache, and a general feeling of being sick.
In some cases sun poisoning can be treated at home just like a normal sunburn: With cool showers and compresses, moisturizers and aloe, painkillers like ibuprofen, and hydration.
But in other cases it needs immediate medical treatment, writes dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. Seek out a doctor if the burn covers a large area of your body, if the burn causes severe blisters or open wounds , or if you're experiencing those whole-body symptoms like fever, chills, and headache, .
And, of course, it pays to avoid these signs of sun damage before they happen. Here's how to pick an effective sunscreen that can help protect you.