THE great thing with living in a tropical country is bounty of sunlight that makes sea or pool swimming quite inviting all year round. Filipinos are known to frequent beach resorts on weekends whether it is the dry or wet season.

That gives us the risk of overexposure to direct sunlight. As we enjoy our time swimming with the family, hours pass by and caution is thrown to the wind.

As the name implies, sunburn is a burn. The mild form is a first-degree burn; the more severe one, a second-degree.

Mild sunburn, which is the common one, shows redness, heat to the touch, and mild pain. It affects only the outer layer of the skin. At times mild dizziness occurs.

Under direct sunlight, it occurs less than 15 minutes from exposure and the damage not obvious right away. After 30 minutes, the skin turns red. Pain turns most extreme after six hours, often staying so for another 42 hours. The burn continues to progress in the next 24 to 72 hours. Skin starts to peel in three to eight days.

Severe sunburn involves damage in deep skin layers and nerve endings, making it unusually painful and takes longer to heal. Apart from worsened first-degree symptoms, swelling and blistering (non-malignant skin tumors) appear. The blisters provide moisture and protection to the underlying tissue if they do not break. Pricking the blisters can lead to infection.

Long-term exposure to direct sunlight, even low-intensity sunlight, increases skin ageing. The skin thickens as the surface layer dies and the elastic fibers destroyed.

It also causes DNA mutations, which can lead to skin cancer.

For milder forms, aspirin and ibuprofen can handle the pain while cold compress and moisturizing creams, especially with aloe ingredient, can stop the process and enhance healing. It is entirely different with the severe form. You need to see a dermatologist to assess the extent of damage.

But do you know that you can get sunburned in your regular day in field assignments, even in urban areas? Yes, you can. Certain factors that make that happen you must watch out for.

First, the time of the day. The sun’s UV rays are most unhindered between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. That is, even on a cloudy day because UV light can pass through the clouds.

Second, proximity to reflective surfaces. Even if you are on a car, UV rays can pass through clear window glass. It also reflects on water, white sand, and concrete. So even if you are walking on sidewalks you can get sunburned.

British composer and playwright Noel Coward advised: “Sunburn is very becoming, but only when it is even—one must be careful not to look like a mixed grill.”