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SUNBURN SCIENCE – What happens to your skin?

4th of July weekend ushers summer into full swing.

With that, the chance is, you will be having fun in the sun, enjoying the beach, spending time at the park or playing a game of softball. Whatever you end up doing, you will be catching more rays than any other time of the year.  Unfortunately, some of us will probably end up with a sunburn.  Hopefully not a bad one.  That’s why I would like to enlighten you about the risks of a sunburn, what happens to the skin and how to minimize your exposure so you won’t put your health at risk and your skin won’t suffer from premature aging. Dermatologist suggest one of the most effective way to keep skin looking young and healthy is to protect it from the sun.


What is a Sunburn?

A sunburn is a preventable risk factor of accelerating aging of the skin and skin cancer.  It is an inflammatory response of the skin caused by excessive ultraviolet radiation (UVR)exposure.  Both UVA (320 to 400 nm) and UVB (280-320 nm) wavelengths can induce a sunburn, however; UVB rays are the ones that cause most of the erythema (superficial reddening of the skin) and DNA damage. (1)

 So, what happens to the skin when you over do it in the sun?

Did you know that dark golden glow you are trying to achieve is your body’s natural defense mechanism kicking in against damaging ultraviolet sun rays?  When your skin gets overwhelmed, a reaction occurs, resulting in a sunburn.  The skin’s defense is a pigment called melanin, which is produced by cells in our skin called melanocytes. (2) The Melanin in the skin is a natural sunscreen.  When the body senses oncoming trauma, it starts to protect itself by sending out melanin to surround cells and tries to protect and shield them from getting additional trauma, resulting in damage to the skin.  Everyone has about the same number of melanocytes, but there is a variance on how much and what colors of melanin they produce.  For example, a darker skinned person has more natural sunscreen than a fair skinned person, but that doesn’t mean they are protected from the sun’s ultraviolet wrath. They can get sunburned therefore; they need to wear sunscreen too.

The redness and pain associated with the sunburn isn’t the only damage that occurs. 

After the skin’s inflammation resolves its self within 3 to 7 days, there can be cellular damage.  Sometimes UVR (Ultraviolet Radiation) causes damage to the DNA repair process in a way that allows cells to mutate and acquire the ability to avoid dying, which leads to the disease process known as cancer. (2)  Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. People who allow themselves to get sunburnt repeatedly are at much higher risk. The risk for the deadliest form of skin cancer, called melanoma, double for someone who has received five or more sunburns. (3)

Some people are fortunate to avoid skin cancer; however, they can’t escape the premature aging the sun does to the skin.  Once you start getting those fine lines, dark spots appearing on body (including the face) and developing leather/crepey skin, it is just about impossible to get rid of them.  The only way to successfully turn back time is expensive appointments at the medi-spa or dermatologist office.  Buying a miracle cream over the counter or on TV will not cut it (pun intended).  It is much easier and less expensive to take care of your skin than to repair it.

To minimize your exposure:

  1. Remember, The Shot Glass Rule to sunscreen. Sunscreen should be applied generously, repeatedly and to all parts of the skin that are exposed to the sun.   Studies have shown that the average size adult or child needs about the amount of sunscreen that it takes to fill a shot glass to evenly cover the entire body.
  2. Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun to allow the formation of a protective barrier and should be reapplied every 2 hours.
  3. Wear a wide brim hat and sun protective clothing.
  4. Avoidance of the sun during peak daylight hours from 10 am to 4pm.
  5. The most important thing to remember is the use of broad spectrum protective sunscreen. It is key keeping the skin young looking and cancer free.


Still, with all that said I hope you all have a great time this summer, and soak up some fun in the sun — without overdoing it.



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