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7 Surprising Sunburn Hot Spots

You know to slather SPF on the usual suspects: arms, legs, and anything your bikini isn't covering. But there are some areas prone to burning that you can't apply SPF to even if you want to! Read on and stay protected from head to toe all year long.

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Ericka McConnell
Ericka McConnell
woman smiling in bikini
Sarah Kehoe
Ericka McConnell
Andrew Parsons
Sarah Kehoe
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The Stinging Truth

We all rely on our best buds to tell us when our nose and shoulders are getting red at the beach or by the pool. But it's those everyday scenarios, like watching a baseball game or hanging out at a BBQ that can give you a red-hot surprise. In addition to burning, sun damage comes in the forms of discolorations, wrinkles, and blistering. According to Mona Gohara, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, one blistering sunburn doubles your lifetime risk of melanoma and five regular burns doubles your chance for cancer in that area. (Melanoma is also the number one cancer among women in their 20s.) Learn how to protect areas you might have missed.

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Hot Spot: Your Eyes

We all know that sunglasses will prevent crow's feet from forming around your peepers, but if left unprotected, did you know that your eyes could actually get sunburned? Photokeratitis, or a burn of the cornea, is more common during the summer months, when the sun's rays -- UVA (they can age you) and UVB (they can burn you) -- are the strongest. According to Dr. Michael Pier, Director of Professional Relations at Bausch + Lomb, the symptoms of sunburned eyes include a gritty feeling (like sand in your eyes), redness, tearing, pain, and blurry vision. "Long-term unprotected exposure to the sun's UV rays can damage your eyes by contributing to cataracts and macular degeneration -- and even lead to tumors that may require surgical removal," he warns. The eye heals quickly, so while most people will recover within two to three days, Dr. Pier advises consulting an eye doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Stay protected! The best way to protect your eyes is to wear a wide-brimmed hat and -- say it with us: Sunglasses are half fashion and half function, so find a UV-blocking pair. "If you spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight, wrap-around sunglass frames can provide additional protection from harmful rays," says Dr. Pier. For contact lens users, he suggests wearing those with UV-blocking features, such as Bausch + Lomb's Biotrue ONEday lenses, which help protect the eyes against harmful UV radiation.

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Hot Spot: Your Calves

The next time you take an afternoon catnap in the sun out on your stomach, make sure you don't fall asleep unprotected. "The back of the legs is the most common place for melanoma in women," says Dr. Gohara, adding that it's also the most deadly form of skin cancer in women. You may not think of this area often, but neglecting it could have a serious outcome later on.

Stay protected! Look for the words "broad spectrum" on the label when buying a sunscreen (to ensure it has both UVA and UVB coverage) and make sure it's SPF 30 or higher. Slather plenty of it on and don't forget to reapply every two hours. Dr. Gohara's go-to brand is the mineral-based La Roche-Posay sunscreen, which is chemical-free and even comes in a tinted formula to give your legs a sun-kissed glow.

When heading out into the sun, also remember to keep yourself hydrated. "You can achieve this through high-water foods, like most fresh fruits and veggies, not just by drinking liquids," says Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, culinary nutritionist and author of 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes. As for liquids, she says to steer clear of large amounts of caffeine, like coffee. But sipping some green tea is actually a good thing. That's because it contains polyphenols, which may protect the skin against damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun as well as improve skin quality.

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Hot Spot: Your Scalp

In addition to a serious case of visible dandruff, you'll hardly be able to run a comb through your hair without wincing in agony. But aside from a burn-induced bad hair day, singeing your scalp can create other issues. Skin cancers that appear on your scalp, eyelids, and lips are more aggressive than those on other areas of the body, says Dr. Gohara. "People actually miss these spots the most because they don't protect themselves properly."

Stay protected! Sun hats are the magic cure for preventing several forms of serious sun damage (and perfect for concealing unkempt beach hair). Blocking out 98% of UV radiation, Coolibar sun hats are approved by the Melanoma International Foundation and recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, and have an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of 50+. (UPF is a rating system similar to SPF used for sunscreens to measure the UV protection provided by fabric.)

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Hot Spot: Your Ears

Picture this: You're cruising down the highway with your windows down on a sunny day, taking in the warm air and singing along with a blast from the past like JT's "Cry Me a River," when all of a sudden your ears are burning -- and not in the good way like your girlfriend calling you to offer you an extra concert ticket. "Getting scorched in your car is more common than people think," says Dr. Gohara. And the biggest misconception? That you are safe if your windows are up. "You cannot burn but you can still get sun spots because UVA rays can pass through."

Stay protected! If the damage is already done, dabbing on some aloe can bring relief. Dr. Gohara also recommends taking aspirin if you are in pain, or using a cortisone cream if your burn starts to get itchy and irritated. And of course protecting yourself ahead of time by throwing on your cute new sun hat and applying sunscreen every morning won't hurt.

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Hot Spot: Your Lips and Eyelids

These body parts are the most prone to burning in athletes and in anyone who spends time outdoors in direct sunlight. But practically everybody can recall a time when they forgot to SPF one of these areas. Since cancers on the lips and eyelids are some of the most aggressive, it's important to keep those areas safe. If it's too late for SPF, cucumber slices can work wonders for reducing pain and swelling on lids.

Stay protected! To keep your pucker kiss-worthy, forego the high-shine lip gloss (which will increase your chance of burning) in lieu of a tinted lip balm with SPF 15 or higher. Dr. Gohara advises her clients who are runners to protect their lips and eyelids with SPF sticks because the product won't run into your eyes. "I like mild baby brands for people with sensitive skin," she says. Dr. Gohara recommends the baby brand Mustela, because it has fewer chemicals than most adult brands. Plus, it won't leave you greasy or gagging from artificial scents.

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Hot Spot: Your Baby

While this might seem like a no-brainer, according to Dr. Gohara, studies have shown that most babies end up with their first sunburn by their second summer. But she advises against babies under 6 months old wearing sunscreen (infants have thinner skin and may absorb the chemicals). Be sure to play with babies in a shady area and cover them properly.

Protect them! "An infant's skin is especially susceptible to the sun's damaging effects," says Dr. Gohara. A mother of two small boys herself, she noticed a void in the children's market for something that babies and small children could wear. That's when K&J Sunprotective Clothing was born. The T-shirts for children 0–24 months block out 99% of harmful UV rays.

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Hot Spot: Your Pets

Don't let Fido fry! According to Ann E. Hohenhaus, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (Oncology & Small Animal Internal Medicine), Certified Veterinary Journalist at The Animal Medical Center in New York, cats and dogs tend to burn on their noses and ears the most. Dogs that like to lie on their backs in the sun are also prone to burning in their arm and leg pit regions, where the hair doesn't cover. The most at-risk animals are white-coated ones with pink noses, she says, adding that they can develop sun-induced cancers like people.

Protect them! If your pet gets sunburned, do not give them an over-the-counter pain medication that's made for a human, Hohenhaus warns, as they can develop stomach ulcers. You can use the aloe vera that's in your medicine cabinet, but first take your pet to see your vet. Proceed with caution when considering the many pet sunscreens on the market, as the government does not regulate sunscreen for animals. Typically you should never use sunscreen made for humans on your dog, as the zinc oxide can damage their red blood cells. But Dr. Hohenhaus does recommend Bull Frog Sunscreen as a safe brand for pets' nose and ear tips if they're going to be outside.

Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, July 2013.

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