The average adult has experienced a sunburn at least once in their lifetime. However, what may seem as a temporary discomfort can actually be serious skin cell damage that never goes away. In fact, sun-damaged skin is a leading cause of skin cancer – so it is worth protecting yourself and understanding what is really going on within your skin when harmful UV rays hit.
What is a sunburn?
While both UVB and UVA light can cause damage to the skin, it is the UVB rays that result in sunburns. The intense energy from UVB light can kill the top layer of skin cells. This layer is your skin’s outer protective layer, so when it peels off, the red and tender layer of skin is exposed.
Do you still have skin damage if you tan instead of burn?
Just because your skin turns more brown than red after a day in the sun, doesn’t mean the UVB rays haven’t done damage. They’ve just damaged your skin in a different way than a sunburn. When the UVB light penetrates a deeper layer of the epidermis, it can cause those pigmenting cells to become distressed. In result, they produce a pigment to the regular skin cells in order to protect them. While a tan is created, our cells can’t keep up the protection to prevent a sunburn. That’s why most of us have to rely on sunscreen to avoid sunburns after chronic sun exposure.
Why do some people burn more easily than others?
Different skin types tolerate sun exposure in unique ways. If your skin contains more pigmenting cells, your skin has the ability to better protect itself and consequently tan more than you burn. If you have less pigmented cells, you may burn easily.
Genetic predisposition also plays a role, as does the natural color of your skin. In general, darker skin is more resilient in UV exposure and tends to burn less easily. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that dark skin is exempt from sun damage altogether.
The skin cancer risk
Beyond wrinkles, brown spots and thin skin, sun damage also poses a major risk for skin cancer. There are three different types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell and squamous cell. All of these skin cancers are triggered by sun damage.
No one intends to get burned. Most are aiming for a bronze, “sun kissed” glow. However, the tan just isn’t worth the risk when it comes to the health of your skin. Remember that your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it is important to do your part in protecting it from one of the most threatening factors – the sun!
Wear a sunscreen that has a high sun protection factor (SPF). Lotions tend to be more protective than sprays. Apply the sunscreen liberally and pay attention to parts of the body that are extra sensitive to sunburn, including your neck, ears and any areas of skin that are already damaged.
Need help choosing the best sunscreen for your skin type? Call Olansky Dermatology. Seeing a dermatologist for optimal summer skin care is an excellent choice that can save your complexion and protect your overall health.