With the summer comes bleached hair and bronzed skin.

But while a suntan may be popular, the side effects of spending time under the sun are not. A common affliction of those who spend too much time in the sun is sunburn. As a consequence of the increase in sun exposure, there has also been an increase in those diseases that are aggravated or caused by the sun's rays. These diseases include premalignant and malignant skin lesions, uneven pigmentation and accelerated aging of the skin. Most of the skin damage caused by the sun is cumulative.The most common burn suffered by humans is sunburn, and virtually all persons have had a sunburn at one time or another. It is produced by UVB (ultraviolet B) radiation and rarely UVA (ultraviolet A) portion of the ultraviolet light.

The sensitivity of the skin to sunlight is partly determined by the amount of pigment (melanin) that it contains. Darker individuals are generally more resistant to the sun's rays than are those with a light complexion, but all humans will eventually burn if exposed to enough radiant energy.

First aid

For a mild sunburn, where no blistering is present, cool the skin with wet cold packs. Later use nonsensitizing skin moisturizers (i.e., Vaseline Intensive Care), and aspirin or ibuprofen to decrease the pain and inflammation.

Topical anesthetic sprays should be avoided, since they can cause sensitization and allergic reactions. Aloe vera lotion or gel may be soothing and promote healing.

For severe sunburn, in which blistering is present, the victim should be taken to a medical facility since this is a second-degree burn usually over a large part of the body. You can apply wet cold packs. Afterward, when the skin is dry, bacitracin ointment can be applied. Do not use butter, vitamin E cream, steroid cream, petroleum jelly, etc. Cover the area with gauze dressings, which should be changed each day. Keep burned arms and legs raised to minimize swelling and pain. Give fluids and use aspirin or ibuprofen.

Prevention

There are two basic ways to prevent sunburn: Block the sunburn with a physical agent or absorb the harmful rays with a chemical. Personal physical protection includes hats, long-sleeved shirts and pants.

Chemicals are represented by sunscreens (available as lotions or creams) either to absorb light of a particular wavelength, act as barriers, or reflect light. Sunscreens are rated by their sun protection factor (SPF). The higher the sunscreen number, the greater the protection from the effects of the sun. The higher-numbered products will prevent tanning in most people as well as preventing sunburn. The SPF is now printed on the label of the sunscreen products and allows the user to readily compare the effectiveness of the various brands of sunscreen. It does not take into account water immersion, sweat and clothing absorption. In general, a sunscreen with an SPF number of 8 or less will allow tanning. Persons with sensitive or unconditioned skin should use a screen with an SPF number of 10 or greater. Fair-skinned persons who never tan or tan poorly should always use a screen with an SPF number of 15 or greater.

The sunscreen's label may have para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) listed, which absorbs UVB. Those sensitive to PABA may use Piz-Buin, Ti-Screen, Uval and Solbar products.

The following are ineffective as sunscreens and may increase the likelihood of burning: baby oil, cocoa butter and mineral oil. For total blockage of the sun's rays on areas that are easily burned, such as the nose, ears and lips, use zinc oxide or red veterinary petroleum.

If you are a parent or have the responsibility for others while in the outdoors, ensure that appropriate planning is done to prevent sunburn.