While health experts tirelessly warn that the long-term consequences of too much sun exposure can be skin cancer, the short-term effects can be blazingly clear to anyone who's spent a day basking on the beach.
Characterized by bright, red skin that is sensitive, if not painful, to the touch, sunburn is a sure, almost immediate sign that you didn't use proper protection. The skin has literally been damaged by the sun's ultraviolet rays. And the consequences can be more than skin deep.
In addition to causing blistering, swelling and pain, a severe sunburn can trigger other symptoms such as a fever, chills, headache, nausea and even confusion. If such severe symptoms occur, experts recommend getting immediate medical attention. You're most at risk of getting a sunburn between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the strength of the sun's UV rays are at their peak. The risk is greater on hot days, when the rays are even more powerful, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Just because it's overcast, don't think you're not at risk for sunburn -- it's also possible to get a bad burn on cloudy days, experts say.
A sunburn is even possible in winter, and those participating in snow sports are particularly at risk. The reason: Snow reflects up to 80 percent of the sun's rays and higher altitudes only increase that UV exposure.
Sunburns can be soothed with cool, wet compresses, baths and lotions. However, experts say the best protection is always using a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15, and staying out of the direct sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.