Proudly New Zealand Owned

Summer skin health

By Denise Elliot

The skin is the largest organ of the body and creates a protective barrier between your internal organs and the external environment.

This protective organ provides our first line of defence from potentially harmful environmental agents, like liquids, gases, bacteria and what can often be the most damaging - the sun.

The more melanin we have in our epidermis (skin layer), the more of our own UV protection we have. Darker skinned people have more melanin producing cells and sunburn less than fair skinned people, however sun protection is recommended for all - we do know that sun damage can turn fatal.

To treat sunburn, first and foremost get out of the sun and cool the burn - with copious amounts of cool water (not ice), for at least ten minutes. Even a mild first degree burn to a young child, elderly person or anyone undergoing radiation treatment can be a major concern. If a serious burn is bigger than the size of your palm then it is best to seek medical support.

Sunburn can be extremely painful, and within that top network of our skin, the small circulatory vessels have been damaged so retaining fluids becomes vital. This capillary leakage removes immune cells from circulation, so healing from serious burns can be slow and painful. Maintaining internal fluid levels is necessary, so drink plenty of water.

Burns are classified from first to third degree. A first degree burn involves only the outer layers of the epidermis, turned red or pink, dry and painful - possibly mild sunburn. While a third degree burn penetrates through all five layers of the epidermis of the skin and sometimes into the deeper organ areas. Skin makes up approximately 16% of the weight of our body and even a small, third degree burn can be fatal if left untreated.

In hospital environments silver topical applications are most commonly used to stop the risk of infections. Honey is also seen in medical use now, for topical use, but more for skin ulcers than burns.

However, honey is a great choice for burns because it limits the fluid loss and has its own anti-bacterial action. It does need to be sterile honey when used topically, to lessen the risk of infection. An alginate (seaweed) type dressing with medical grade honey is available through pharmacies.

Aloe vera gel is cooling, soothing and may act like a dressing also limiting fluid loss. The topical application of aloe vera certainly helps the healthy cells thrive. This can be from a fresh peeled well-identified leaf, or a quality aloe gel available from a health store or pharmacy.

The one essential oil that is specifically recommended for burns is lavender, a topical application of a few drops of quality lavender essential oil in a cold pressed carrier oil, will offer support for a dehydrated sunburnt skin. It also offers anti-bacterial action and the healing of healthy new cells.

The best advice is still prevention - SLIP, SLOP, SLAP and WRAP.

Enjoy summer – but don’t make it a painful one.