What is a Sunburn?
In order to best understand what happens to our skin when we receive a sunburn, it is important to identify the different types of ultraviolet (UV) rays the sun produces. The sun emits both Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. While UVA rays are associated with skin aging, UVB rays are associated with skin burning. When we spend too much time in the sun or in tanning beds without sunscreen, these rays penetrate our skin, leading to sunburn. When UV rays cause damage to the skin, the DNA of our cells is actually mutating. Blood vessels can dilate to increase blood flow and bring immune cells to try to correct these mutations, which can lead to the swelling and inflammation we experience with sunburn. Repeated UV light exposure that causes sunburn can increase your risk for dark spots, dry skin, lines and wrinkles, and cause mutations in the skin cells which can lead to skin cancer.
Types of Sunscreens
Sunscreen is important for protecting your skin from harmful UV rays. The active ingredient in sunscreen works by creating a filter against these UV rays, stopping them from penetrating the skin. There are two main types of sunscreens that can be purchased today, including:
These sit on the top of the skin’s surface and deflect UV rays away from the skin. Some products have a white cast to them, so they are visible on the skin. However, more elegant micronized sunblocks such as Elta MD and Skin Better Science, have been created with nano particles that absorb into the skin and do not leave a visible cast. For best results, they should be applied liberally and reapplied every two hours. Many sunblocks are water-resistant to stick on the skin for up to 80 minutes.
These are absorbed into the deeper layers of the skin. They work by absorbing UV rays and converting them into heat, which is then released from the skin. While chemical sunscreens protect against UVB rays, they may not protect against all types of UVA rays. They also take about 20 minutes to become effective, so they should be applied 20 minutes prior to sun exposure.
Sun Safety Tips
There are some ways you can take action to protect your skin from sunburn when spending time outdoors. These include:
Spend Time in the Shade: When you find yourself spending long periods of time outdoors, spend time in the shade to protect your skin from UV rays.
Cover Up: Whenever possible, wearing long-sleeved shirts or long pants can also protect you from the sun’s rays. Darker-colored clothing may be more protective than those of lighter colors. Many UV protectant fabrics are now available with SPF 50.
Wear SPF: Be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher when spending time outside. Also, be sure to regularly reapply when swimming or sweating.
Never Use Tanning Beds: UV tanning beds emit intense UVA and UVB rays, which can lead to skin damage and increase your risk for skin cancers.
See a Dermatologist: It is important to visit your dermatologist at least once a year for a skin exam to check for changing moles or signs of skin cancer.