01 May A Sunburn is More Than Skin Deep
Some people pride themselves on their ability to tan rather than burn. However, the term “sunburn” isn’t used only when the skin turns red, painful, and peels from too much sun exposure. Spectrum Dermatology is participating in May’s Melanoma Month by highlighting the importance of annual skin exams. Anyone can suffer from sun damage, regardless of melanin levels or “tanning ability.”
Types of Skin Cancer
There are various types of skin cancers. Melanoma is the most well-known. It is also the deadliest of all cancers. However, it is easy to prevent (although there are some genetic predispositions). Melanoma is most often caused by serious sunburns, which often present as painful, red, peeling symptoms. However, melanoma can also occur from moderate exposure to the sun. A person who does not believe they have ever “burned” can still be diagnosed with any type of skin cancer.
How A Sunburn Happens
A sunburn is a type of radiation burn that happens when the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun damage the DNA within the top layer of the epidermis. Three types of UV radiation come from the sun including UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C. The Earth’s atmosphere absorbs most of the UV-C rays, but the UV-A and UV-B rays can reach the ground and damage unprotected skin. UV-B rays penetrate the top layer of skin, while the UV-A rays can penetrate deeper.
The photons, or particles responsible for light transmission, in UV-A rays are what actually damage the skin cell components including membranes, proteins, and even DNA. The body’s DNA absorbs UV-C rays, which can make parts of the DNA sync incorrectly. When this happens, correct DNA replication is not possible. The cells in the body will try to repair the mistakes, but a surplus of DNA mistakes can become too big of a task and cause the cell to self-destruct. When the cells on the top layer of skin are notified of DNA damage, they create molecules to draw immune cells to the area. When this happens, the blood vessels can leak into “nooks” in between skin structures and cells. It is this buildup of fluid that causes red skin, a burning sensation, and sensitivity during a sunburn.
This flood of immune cells starts while a person is still exposed to the sun. However, it increases one hour after a person is indoors or otherwise protected. The entire process climaxes within 24 – 48 hours, which is why the worst of sunburns usually appear a day or two after sun exposure.