Second Degree Sunburn

Lynsey Keep, RN
suncream
Sun Poisoning Rash Treatment

Exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun can cause two levels of damage to the skin, and these are first degree and second degree sunburn. Both types of skin damage are caused by direct exposure of the skin to the UV rays when sun protection cream either is not used at all or the incorrect level of cream is used.

Ultraviolet Exposure

In life it is not always possible to remain away from exposure to UV rays, and it is often days when the sun shines unexpectedly or there are clouds in the sky that individuals find themselves being the unexpected victims of sunburn.

UV exposure is more harmful to some people than others and those at particular risk include:

  • Those with fair skin
  • People who have freckles
  • Red- or fair-haired people and those with light colored eyes

Those who belong to any of these categories will undoubtedly be aware how easily their skin burns even with short periods of exposure to the sun and in light of these risks are sensible to apply high sun proof factor (SPF) creams or lotions to provide a barrier between themselves and the harmful UV rays.

Second Degree Sunburn: Unnecessary Suffering

Most people in their lives will have been the unfortunate victims of first degree sunburn, which is when exposure to the sun causes a mild, superficial reddening to the skin's surface. Although the associated soreness and skin discoloration may not show up for several hours, the symptoms associated with this type of skin damage are short lived and will be virtually gone in a few days.

The same unfortunately cannot be said for those who experience second degree sunburn, which is far more harmful to the skin with potentially lasting damage as a result. This type of sunburn causes damage which can appear soon after exposure to the sun and is recognized by one or more of the following:

  • Extremely red appearance to the skin
  • Prominent heat felt from the skin's surface
  • Severe pain to the skin even when it is not touched
  • Blistering which may weep serous fluid
  • Swelling to the affected area of the body

This sunburn is also known as 'partial thickness' skin damage and is particularly painful as the damage is so deep that it causes damage to the nerve ending under the surface of the skin. As well as skin damage and pain, in severe cases of this type of sunburn an individual may experience:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Secondary infection

Those who experience this type of sunburn may require hospital treatment to manage the symptoms associated with the skin damage, such as pain and dehydration.

Treating the Problem Yourself

In a large number of cases, individuals can be victims of this type of sunburn without needing to go to the hospital. There are few treatments available other than common sense ones which provide comfort only to the damage which has already occurred.

The basic advice for those who have been the victim of a case of this type of sunburn is:

  • Cool the affected area with cool baths or tap water applied as a compress. Never apply or immerse the affected area in ice-cold water.
  • There are some soothing and cooling products available at stores. 'Calamine' is a well known example of this. Never apply lotions or creams to blistered or broken skin.
  • Drink plenty of water to replace any fluid lost.
  • Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) to treat the pain. There are restrictions on who can and can't take this type of pain relieving drug.
  • Never pop or interfere with blisters that have formed; fluid will seep out gradually and the skin will rejuvenate over time.

Avoiding the Problem in the First Place

Preferable to having to treat cases of this type of sunburn is the far more sensible act of avoiding the problem in the first place. Taking skin precautions in the presence of the sun is relatively easy, and for the sake of gaining an eventual tan it is most certainly not worth enduring the pain of this type of skin damage during this process.Choose the correct UV protective sunscreen or lotion for your type of skin. For those with fair skin and/or freckles it is advisable to use the highest factor available, or in harsh, strong sunlight a total sun-block may be more sensible. For those with a medium complexion, go for a mid-range protective cream, and ideally the only people who would be advised to use the lower protective group products would be those with Mediterranean or darker complexions or those who benefit from year-round tan.

As well as the risk and suffering which comes with second degree sunburn, as with first degree skin damage also prolonged or unprotected exposure to UV rays can also increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Melanoma is more common in those with fair skin and those who do not use adequate skin protection therefore it should be taken as a harsh warning to protect not only your skin but potentially your life.

Second Degree Sunburn