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We all know the importance of protecting ourselves from the harmful effects of the sun. Not only does sunburn hurt, but every burn increases our risk of developing skin cancer.

Our lips are particularly sensitive, yet despite this, people often overlook the importance of protecting their lips from the sun.

In this article, we learn about how to treat sunburned lips at home, and how to avoid burning them in the future.

A person's lips are very sensitive to the sun's UV rays. The lips have a thin layer of skin and very little melanin, the pigment that helps protect against the sun.

They are one of the most vulnerable parts of the body because they are always exposed to the sun when a person is out and about.

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People often overlook protecting their lips from the sun.

It can take up to 24 hours for the effects of sun exposure to become apparent.

Symptoms of sunburned lips include:

  • reddening
  • swelling
  • tenderness to the touch

In moderate to severe cases, a person may also experience sunburn blisters that are small, white, and filled with fluid.

A case of sunburn usually lasts between 3-5 days.

The first step is to stay out of the sun while the skin heals.

An instance of sunburn leads to inflammation, so taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen or aspirin, can help ease discomfort.

As burned skin draws water from the body to the surface, a person may become dehydrated if they get sunburned.

Anyone with sunburn should be sure to drink plenty of water. Sports drinks can also help replace electrolytes.

Applying a cold compress to sunburned lips can reduce pain and inflammation. Soak a small, clean towel in ice-cold water, squeeze out the excess water and hold it to the lips. Once the towel starts warming up, take it off and repeat the process.

Aloe vera is hydrating and can help reduce pain, though people are advised only to use gels that are 100 percent aloe on the lips in case they are accidentally ingested.

Moisturizers that contain castor seed oil, shea butter or beeswax, vitamin E, coconut oil, or almond oil can help soothe and heal sunburned lips.

A compress soaked in fat-free skimmed milk can also help ease the pain, as proteins in the milk form a film over the burned skin to protect exposed nerve endings.

Most cases of sunburned lips will heal by themselves and most sunburn blisters will break without needing to be manually drained.

It is possible, however, to suffer an allergic reaction to the sun and a person should seek urgent medical attention if their lips or tongue are severely swollen, or if they experience a rash.

Other signs of an allergic reaction include difficulty eating, drinking, talking, or opening the mouth.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States (U.S.). One in five Americans will develop it during their lifetime. The most common cause of skin cancer is sunlight.

The lips are frequent locations for two of the most common non-melanoma skin cancers. These cancers are known as basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Cancer of the lip accounts for 0.6% of all cancers in the U.S.

Cases of BCC and SCC are seen most frequently in fair-skinned men aged 50 and over. Men are between three and 13 times more likely to develop lip cancer than women. One reason for this may be that they are more likely to work outside.

A person who frequently gets cold sores may experience an outbreak if the lips are sunburned, so effective sun protection is recommended to prevent this.

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Using sunscreen and staying out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. is recommended to prevent sunburn.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there is no safe way to get a tan. A tan is the body's response to the damage it sustains from the sun.

The best way to protect the skin is to stay out of direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.. When out in the sun, people should use a sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreen.

Thick, white sunblock that contains physical barriers to the sun, such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide, can also be applied to the lips. These will stop all the sun's harmful rays reaching the skin.

Experts recommend applying a protective balm to the lips at least 30 minutes before going out, and reapplying it throughout the day, particularly after eating or drinking.

A person should use a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15, especially if they work outside or spend a lot of time outdoors.

It is important to remember that snow, water, and sand reflect the sunlight, magnifying the amount of UV light that reaches the lips. Sunburn can also occur even in overcast weather.

Experts also advise people to avoid tanning booths, which work by emitting artificial radiation that carries all the risks, including skin cancer and wrinkling, of natural sunlight.

Some of the treatments listed in this article are available for purchase online.