Why too much sun is bad for seniors this summer

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | General Health | Wednesday, July 02, 2014 - 06:00 AM

protection, sunburnSummer for many people means great friends, barbecues and plenty of time in the fresh air. However, at one point or another, each and every one of us has felt the sting of the common sunburn.

Sunburns are annoying, but they can also lead to more serious consequences, as you may well be aware. And seniors, especially, can be at risk, particularly those with fairer complexions.

As we age, the epidermis becomes thinner so the skin easily blisters, tears and grazes with too much sun. The skin also feels dry because it is less able to hold onto water.

Whether you’re in your backyard on a lawn chair or spending time at a beach, the intensity of the sun’s rays can also put you at risk for dehydration and sunstroke, where you might feel a headache coming on, light-headed or dizzy. Even if you don’t feel thirsty, keep a bottle of water handy and take frequent drinks, and limit your time in the sun, taking breaks to head indoors to give your body a chance to rest.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, more than 3.5 million Americans are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer every year and well over 100,000 get potentially deadly melanoma. The major risk factor for melanoma is exposure to UV light, and the daily use of sunscreen cuts melanoma risk in half.

The best strategy is sun protection, but if you find yourself the victim of painful sunburn and require a little fast relief, there are a few things you can do.

RELATED READING: How the sun can slow the effects of aging

Raid your cupboards

Items you’re likely to already have at home can help give you some fast sunburn relief. A cool bath with a cup of cider vinegar or oatmeal in the water is soothing. You can also try a paste made of cornstarch and water, or apply natural, plain yogurt directly to your skin. If you’ve burned your eyelids, lie down with a cooled tea bag over each closed eye. Black tea contains tannins which can soothe sunburn. A traditional Chinese remedy to cool the heat of a sunburn is honey.  Search out medicinal honey or an all-natural and unpasteurized honey and apply it directly to mild sunburns.

Cut a leaf from the aloe vera plant

If you have an aloe vera plant, you can cut off a leaf, split it lengthwise and apply the clear gel directly to the burned area. Not only a nice decoration for your home, an aloe plant is great for the immediate relief of most minor burns and skin irritations. You can also buy aloe gels; some even contain lidocaine, which provides pain relief. Put the gel in the fridge and apply when chilled for an extra soothing skin treat.

Use cold compresses

A cold compress can both soothe the affected skin and take out some of the sting from a minor burn. You can also find anti-inflammatory witch hazel at most drugstores and natural health stores. Try wrapping a few ice cubes in a facecloth or dishcloth but make sure you never apply the ice directly to your skin.

RELATED READING: Surprising effects of sunshine on your medication

Take care of blisters

Blisters are a sign of second-degree burns and need to be treated with care. A blister indicates there is damage extending into the skin tissue below the epidermis. While you may want to see a doctor at this stage of a burn, small blisters can be carefully drained using a sterile needle and gentle pressure within the first 24 hours, but keep them clean and watch for any signs of infection. Keeping the top layer of skin over the blister can provide protection so the sensitive skin underneath remains clean and infection-free.

Keep your skin moist

Skin that is damaged needs moisture to help it heal properly. You will want to make sure you stick with moisturizers that you know don’t irritate your skin, as the last thing you need right now is a rash on top of a sunburn! Look for something very basic, scent-free and hypoallergenic like shea butter or coconut oil. Make sure you reapply often.

These natural remedies can be helpful but there are times when you should seek professional help. If your skin has any charring, if the burn covers a large area, or if you get an infection, see a doctor immediately.

Prevention of that sunburn is really the only way to make sure your skin stays healthy. The Environmental Working Group recommends finding a sunscreen without oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. You can also look for natural sun-protection ingredient like zinc oxide. Remember that even waterproof sunscreen will wash off and should be applied every couple of hours.

Wear your hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, and avoid the mid-day sun. Take indoor breaks and drink water throughout the day.

There’s no need to hibernate in the indoors. The sunny season is meant to be enjoyed!

 

Related Reading:

Seniors, the one thing to be mindful of this summer

‘Cool’ health foods to eat this summer


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