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Sunburns | How Do You Get a Sunburn?
How do you get a sunburn? How did I get sunburnt? The most obvious answer is, sun exposure without the correct method of prevention, duh… Technically that is the answer, however, what exactly is cooking my skin and what is sunscreen doing to prevent sunburns in the first place? It’s not actually the sunshine or the heat of the sun that we need to be worried about, but it’s actually the sun’s invisible weapon known as ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Sunburns are the result of overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. These invisible rays can damage our skin cells, causing painful burns, and in some cases, long-term health issues. There are three types of UV radiation: UVA, UVB, and UVC.
- UVA rays: These rays make up about 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface. They can penetrate deep into our skin, causing premature aging and increasing the risk of skin cancer. UVA rays are present all year round and can even penetrate through clouds and glass.
- UVB rays: Responsible for around 5% of the UV radiation that reaches us, UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburns. They damage the outer layers of our skin and play a significant role in the development of skin cancer. UVB rays are strongest during peak sun hours (10 am to 4 pm) and in the summer months.
- UVC rays: Luckily for us, UVC rays don’t make it to the Earth’s surface, as they’re absorbed by the ozone layer. However, they are the most dangerous of the three types, so it’s a good thing we’re protected!
Dangers of Sun Exposure
To fully understand the dangers of sun exposure, I am going to ask you to put on your scientist lab coats to make this information a bit more “a peeling.”
When ultraviolet (UV) radiation penetrates our skin, it damages the DNA in our skin cells. Our body responds by increasing blood flow to the affected area, causing the telltale redness, warmth, and inflammation we always experience with sunburns. This is our body’s attempt to repair the damage, but unfortunately, repeated sunburns and excessive sun exposure can lead to these long-lasting consequences:
- Sunburn: When our skin is exposed to excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation, it can cause an inflammatory response known as sunburn. This is characterized by redness, pain, and sometimes swelling. Sunburns can range from mild to severe, with the most severe cases involving blistering and even second-degree burns.
- Premature aging: Chronic exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, particularly UVA rays, can lead to premature aging of the skin. This is known as photoaging and includes symptoms such as wrinkles, fine lines, age spots, and a loss of skin elasticity. The damage occurs because UV radiation breaks down collagen and elastin fibers, which are responsible for keeping our skin firm and supple.
- Skin cancer: Prolonged exposure to both UVA and UVB rays contributes to the development of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. UV radiation can cause mutations in the DNA of our skin cells, leading to uncontrolled cell growth and the formation of cancerous tumors. Melanoma, in particular, is known to be aggressive and can be life-threatening if not detected and treated early.
- Eye damage: Our eyes are also sensitive to the harmful effects of UV radiation. Excessive exposure can lead to conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, and even skin cancer around the eyes. Wearing sunglasses with 100% UV protection is crucial for safeguarding our vision.
- Weakened immune system: Surprisingly, UV radiation can also impact our immune system. It can suppress our body’s natural defenses, making us more susceptible to infections and reducing the effectiveness of vaccines. This weakening of the immune system may also contribute to the development of skin cancer.
- Photosensitivity: Some people have an increased sensitivity to UV radiation due to certain medications, medical conditions, or genetic factors. This heightened sensitivity, known as photosensitivity, can result in more severe sunburns, rashes, or other skin reactions when exposed to the sun.
Will all of these things happen the second you get a sunburn? Absolutely not! But it is important to be vigilant and to understand the role sunscreen plays in keeping us healthy, beautiful, and radiant!