Say no to ‘sky fry skin’


Sum­mer is def­i­nitely here and so is bar­be­cue sea­son. Un­for­tu­nately, many of us are bar­be­cu­ing our bod­ies as the sun’s rays fry our skin and its tis­sues be­neath.

Cells be­gin what is called apop­to­sis, cell sui­cide as pro­teins are cooked like sausages on the hot­plate. The red­ness is caused by di­la­tion of blood ves­sels which can peak up to 24 hours af­ter sun ex­po­sure.

A cas­cade of in­flam­ma­tion and pain is set up, which is not only un­com­fort­able but has po­ten­tial long-term ef­fects.

The ex­ces­sive UV rays cause DNA dam­age which sends cells on an­other path­way of repli­ca­tion and the skin can­cers we com­monly see on pa­tients as doc­tors.

While un­der­tak­ing chef du­ties at a re­cent bar­be­cue I cer­tainly no­ticed guests turn­ing the same colour as the steak. I felt obliged to point out that they were go­ing red. Their re­ply? ‘‘No, I have put on sun block.’’

Un­for­tu­nately, I think that’s a mis­nomer as sun lo­tion doesn’t block the sun, it just of­fers a lit­tle more pro­tec­tion than none. It’s not a guar­an­tee, and it’s a li­cence to bake.

See­ing the red­ness pre­cedes the pain that means cells are dy­ing and fry­ing is con­tin­u­ing. So, cool­ing the skin is im­por­tant when try­ing to re­duce the dam­age that will con­tinue over the next 24 hours.

It’s like run­ning your burn from the stove un­der a cold tap. Once the cool­ing is re­moved, the pain re­turns. So, more cool­ing.

We see a wide va­ri­ety of burns in the Emer­gency De­part­ment, in­clud­ing sun­burn.

The first aid treat­ment is al­ways the same: cool the skin and tis­sues to stop fur­ther pro­tein de­nat­u­ra­tion and in­flam­ma­tion. A cold com­press such as an icepack in a moist towel can help.

Anti-in­flam­ma­tory med­i­ca­tions can as­sist with pain and swelling. In­creas­ing fluid in­take is also helpful.

The shade is your friend and re­duc­ing sun ex­po­sure is para­mount. Sun­burn is a ma­jor risk fac­tor for the three types of skin can­cer, of which melanoma is the most life-threat­en­ing.

Sadly, roughly one Kiwi a day (the hu­man va­ri­ety) dies of melanoma. Ninety-five per cent of skin can­cers are cur­able if caught early enough.

An­nual skin checks are vi­tal in re­duc­ing skin can­cer harm. It’s im­por­tant to know the skin you’re in and if you are wor­ried about a mole, or any­thing un­usual, get it checked.

The rise of skin apps and cam­eras are use­ful tools in skin can­cer de­tec­tion but the only 100 per cent ac­cu­rate way to di­ag­nose skin can­cer is to have a biopsy or the le­sion re­moved. A pathol­o­gist ex­am­ines the cells un­der a mi­cro­scope to de­ter­mine if they are can­cer­ous or not and if fur­ther surgery or treat­ment is needed.

Us­ing a skin scope on your smart­phone can show you sun dam­age.

See­ing how your skin has aged in the spots where it has had sun ex­po­sure can be fright­en­ing.

There is a phrase ‘‘learn from the burn’’ and the mem­ory of bad 123RF sun­burn most of us have ex­pe­ri­enced at one time or an­other should mo­ti­vate us to pro­tect our­selves and our loved ones from stay­ing out in the sun so long we are fried or saute´ed.

If you see some­one get­ting the red tinge, point it out and start some treat­ment to cool the skin. Have fun in the sun but don’t fry from the sky. ● Dr Tom Mulholland is an Emer­gency De­part­ment Doc­tor and GP with more than 25 years ex­pe­ri­ence in New Zealand. He’s cur­rently a man on a mis­sion, tack­ling health mis­sions around the world.

The first aid treat­ment for sun­burn is al­ways the same: cool the skin and tis­sues to stop fur­ther pro­tein de­nat­u­ra­tion and in­flam­ma­tion.

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