Menu Close

What Exactly is a Sunburn?

Summer is in full swing…pool parties, beach days, picnics in the park, and spectacular sunsets bursting on the horizon. So far this summer has hosted some of the most beautiful days this year, complete with billowing white puffs of clouds skimming across clear blue skies, and golden rays of sunlight beaming down to warm our skin.

So what happens when the kiss of that golden globe in the heavens becomes too much for our skin to handle and we end up an angry shade of red instead? You got it- sunburn. But what exactly is a sunburn anyway? And is it “sunburn” if you are only red for only a short while before becoming tan? In this blog entry, we will explore what actually happens when our skin, one of the human body’s most vital assets, absorbs these powerful rays.

It’s all about the Melanin.

Melanin is a naturally occurring dark brown or black pigment in the body, responsible for the coloring of hair and skin. In more scientific terms, melanin is the byproduct of amino acids. When we spend time out in the sun, our body produces more melanin which deepens the color of the skin, attempting to thwart sun damage, thus ‘tanning’. In a way, melanin is the body’s own natural sunscreen, the innate way our body protects itself from adverse effects of the damaging UV rays soaking into our skin. When skin can’t compensate for the attack of harmful UV rays with enough production of melanin, often times the recognizable redness (or worse) associated with sunburn will make an appearance. So remember, even if you don’t blister or peel, the sun is damaging your skin whether you turn red, or simply tan.

Lather Up…especially the little ones

Now you know why sunscreen is integral to your summer routine: it increases the skin’s natural barrier of protection. This is particularly important for children and babies who have more sensitive skin than adults. Babies do not have as much melanin as adults, their skin being especially sensitive in the first six months of life. Studies have shown that if your child gets sunburn twice a year, his or her chances of getting skin cancer are increased. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, two or more childhood sunburns more than doubles the chance of melanoma in adulthood. Statistics show that approximately 40-60% of sun exposure occurs before the age of 20, and melanoma in children is the second most common form of cancer in the 15-29 year old age group.

Damaging the DNA

Ultraviolet B rays are the more penetrating of the sun’s rays, compared to the ultraviolet A type. However, UVB rays are shorter in wavelength and reach into the deepest layers of our skin, down to the basal layer, which is where skin cells regenerate every 28 days or so. When this layer of our skin gets attacked by destructive UVB rays, the result is interference with the healthy division of these crucial epidermal cells. The production of melanin is stimulated as a response, sending the much needed protection to the other layers of skin, darkening it. Meanwhile, even though you may be “tan” and not red, DNA has been reproducing in an impaired manner due to the intrusion of UVB rays at the basal layer during the cellular renewal process. Healthy reproduction of cells does not occur at the rate it should, resulting in poorer quality, damaged skin… and perhaps worse.

Who doesn’t love a beautiful sunny day? With the proper precautions and use of our own good sense, enjoying the outdoors under the summer sun can be a wonderful thing, whether it be a day at the park or on the beach. But sometimes, even with best of preparation and good intentions, circumstances may go awry. The sun’s rays are most intense between 10am and 3pm. Don’t forget, sunscreen is not impenetrable. Apply often, and seek shade or go indoors if you begin to redden during sun exposure.

If you find yourself or a loved one needing relief from a sunburn, you can come into Family First Urgent Care in Oakhurst or Toms River. We can help you feel better and get the treatment you need. Because at Family First, you’re family.

Related Posts