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.