Did you know the skin redness, swelling, and pain associated with sunburn are caused due to a reaction to the ultraviolet rays from the sun and not due to the sun’s heat?
The burning sensation that you experience is caused due chemical processes triggered by the ultraviolet radiation. The energy from these harmful rays damages the skin molecules and alters the DNA to produce of different types of proteins and enzymes that cause dilation of the small blood vessels and inflammation. The formation of these proteins takes about 6 hours and hence the signs and symptoms of sunburn do not appear until much later than the actual UV light exposure. The damaged skin can be repaired by the body’s self-healing mechanism; however, repeated sunburns can cause severe mutations in the DNA leading to skin cancer.
Here are some interesting statistics regarding the relationship between sun exposure and skin cancer:
- Melanoma, which is a very aggressive form of skin cancer is mostly associated with sun exposure. According to a study performed in the UK about 86% of all melanomas are related to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
- Approximately 90% of all non-melanoma cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma tend to occur in areas of the body that are exposed to the sun.
- A person’s risk of developing melanoma will double with being sunburned more than 5 times during his or her lifetime.
- Daily use of a sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher decreases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 40% and melanoma by 50% approximately.
To prevent the increased risk of skin cancer due to sunburn you must:
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (at least SPF 15) throughout the year and not just during the summer.
- Apply the sunscreen half an hour before going out in the sun and every two hours while exposed to the sun.
- Stay out of the sun between 10:00 pm and 3:00 pm.
- Wear appropriate clothing when going out in the sun such as long sleeves and a broad-brimmed hat.
Even getting a mild suntan, whether from direct sunlight or from artificial tanning beds, is causing damage to your skin. If you would like to have a golden glow to your skin, the safe option would be sunless tanning products such as cosmetic bronzers or products that stain the skin and then fade when the skin cells slough off. Better a fake tan than risk cancer!