Sunburn & Sun Poisoning

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The sun's rays can infuse vitamin D into your body--but the effects of too much sun can cause damage to the skin and to your body, according to the Mayo Clinic. A knowledge of how much sun is too much and how sun can affect your body helps you to avoid sunburn, sun poisoning and even, potentially, skin cancer.


Melanin in the skin helps protect the skin from damage by absorbing ultraviolet radiation in the skin. However, when the skin is exposed to too much radiation, a sunburn can occur. Sunburns cause damage to the skin, resulting in signs of premature aging and even potentially deadly skin cancers. Sun poisoning results when a person is excessively exposed to the sun or is taking medications that cause adverse reactions, according to


The physical signs of sunburn are typically the first onset of a sunburn--such as red or pink skin. In addition to changing skin color, other signs of sunburn onset include warm skin, skin pain, swelling, headache and skin blistering. Significant sun poisoning can cause a person to go into a condition known as cardiogenic shock. Symptoms of extreme cardiogenic shock include loss of consciousness, rapid heartbeat, sweating and weak pulse, according to National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. If this occurs, seek emergency medical treatment.


Sun poisoning can occur in as little as 20 minutes in the sun, according to Dr. Andrew Weil. The best prevention is to avoid the sun, particularly during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are the strongest, according to Mayo Clinic. If you do need to be outside during this time, seek shade whenever possible. Applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or above can help reduce the risk of sunburn. Frequent reapplication is necessary, particularly after sweating, to continue to avoid sunburn. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside in order for the sunscreen to work most effectively.


If you experience the onset of sun poisoning symptoms, immediately remove yourself from the sun and continue to avoid the sun. Dip towels in ice water and apply to the skin. Taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can help reduce swelling or pain that results from sun poisoning or sunburn, according to Applying over-the-counter corticosteroid cream to the skin can help to relieve sun poisoning or sunburn if aloe vera gel or other after-sun balm does not improve symptoms. (Consult your doctor before taking corticosteroid creams.)


Both sun poisoning and sunburn can necessitate a trip to the physician's office or even emergency room. If you have experienced a sunburn, see a physician if you experience blisters as a side effect and they cover a significant area of your body. Symptoms that accompany a sunburn can result in side effects including fever, dizziness, nausea, chills or pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Medications that can cause sun poisoning to occur faster than usual include tetracycline antibiotics, diuretics, birth control pills, phenothiazines, sulfur drugs and thalidomide, according to Even a limited amount of sun exposure can cause negative reactions. Carefully review all medications and their side effects before using them in order to know how much to avoid the sun.