Sun protection after a burn injury

Sunshine – like all enjoyable things – has its good and bad sides. It’s wonderful to spend the day in the summer sunshine, but it’s important to take precautions to protect your burn injuries. Burn wounds are much more sensitive to sun exposure than typical skin. We advise burn survivors to stay out of the sun for up to two years after injury. However, there are precautions you can take to safely go out in the sun while your burn injury is still healing.

Our expert burn care team can help you understand your risks and teach you how to keep your skin safe from further damage. Whether you’re a construction worker or landscaper who spends a lot of time out in the sun, or if you want to learn how to protect yourself on the beach, we can help.

Why skin is more sensitive to sun after a burn

Newly healed burned skin and skin grafts are very fragile. This makes them more sensitive to harsh UV rays from the sun. Unprotected skin can experience a slight sunburn in as little as 12 minutes on a summer day. Long-term overexposure may lead to skin cancer even on uninjured skin.

Avoid exposing your burn-injured skin to any sunlight until all of the red color has faded from the injury. In some cases, it can take 18 months to two years for a burn injury or skin graft to mature enough to be exposed to sunlight. If burn wounds spend time in the sun, they may turn very dark brown or blotchy after only brief sun exposure.

Precautions that help prevent sunburn after a burn injury

We recommend following the American Academy of Dermatology’s guidelines for protecting yourself from sunburns.

Always wear sunscreen

You should wear sunscreen every time you’re in the sun. Wearing sunscreen is especially important if you’re going to be in the sun for an extended period of time. Try to get in the habit of putting on sunscreen before you leave the house.

Choose a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. This blocks most of the sun’s harmful rays that cause sun damage. Keep in mind that the higher the SPF, the more of the harmful rays are blocked from your skin.

Don’t forget to reapply as directed, usually every two hours. When working, playing or exercising outdoors, remember that even waterproof sunscreen can come off when you sweat or wipe off water.

Keep in mind that even though sunscreen provides protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays, it does not block all the sun’s damaging rays. Layering different types of protection is the best way to keep yourself from getting a sunburn.

Wearing a hat can keep the sun off your face and eyes. Pairing a hat with sunscreen is a great way to protect the parts of your body most prone to sun exposure, your eyes, ears, nose, neck and the top of your head. When picking a sunhat, choose one with a wide brim to block the most sun from your face and neck.

Wear UV sunglasses

Sunglasses can help protect your eyes and the skin around them from sun damage. Choose sunglasses that block 99-100% of UV radiation. This type of sunglasses can help prevent cataracts and other eye damage caused by UV rays. When buying sunglasses, you can check for a tag that states what percentage of UV rays they block.

Use clothes to cover up from the sun

Clothing is an effective way to keep the sun off your skin. When you’re going to be out in the sun, consider wearing a t-shirt instead of a sleeveless shirt to protect your shoulders. Put on a coverup over a bathing suit when you’re not swimming to protect your skin.

Look for clothing that has UV protection built in. The sun can burn your skin through custom-fitted elastic garments that cover your burns and even clothing. Skin covered by a typical summer shirt fabric can experience sun damage in about an hour. That’s because a typical cotton t-shirt has a sun protection factor (SPF) of only seven.

Avoid the midday sun

The sun’s UV rays are strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Whenever possible, do your best to stay out of the sun during these times.

Keep in mind that it’s important to keep your burn injury or skin graft out of the sun for the first 18 months to two years after the injury, or until the skin has matured.

Check the daily UV index

The UV index predicts sun exposure levels and gives you a good idea of what precautions you should take if you’ll be outdoors. Generally, you can find the day’s UV index rating online, on your local news or in the newspaper.

Avoid sunlamps and tanning beds

Skip the tanning salon. Sunlamps can damage your skin and unprotected eyes. It’s best to avoid them entirely. If you want to have tanned skin, opt for sunless tanning products instead.

Sunless self-tanning products

If you want to have the tanned skin look, sunless self-tanning products are a safer alternative to tanning. Self-tanners work by using the active ingredient dihydroxyacetone (DHA). DHA combines with protein in your skin to create a tan.

Before applying the product all over your skin, try the patch test. This is when you use the product first on a small area to check for a reaction before applying to a larger area.

If you’re healing from a skin graft, don’t use tanning creams over grafted or donor areas until the skin has matured. It may take skin 18 months to two years to mature after a skin graft.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)