Sunburn can certainly be uncomfortable, but that discomfort is not the only problem — or the biggest one — associated with it. If you’re following our series on sun protection (see Parts 1 & 2), you already realize that sun protection isn’t just about avoiding sunburn, per se, but also reducing risk of skin cancer. Especially for young children, each sunburn can greatly increase the likelihood of developing melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Thankfully, though, unlike many things that increase the likelihood of cancer, sunburn is typically 100% preventable! And armed with a little bit of knowledge, you can prevent yourself and those you love from increasing their chances of getting sunburned and, as a result, of getting a deadly disease. On that note, there are a few things you should know.
Know What Causes Sunburn
What causes sunburn? The sun, of course — but let’s be more specific. It’s actually not the heat but the ultraviolet (or UV) rays of the sun. Some of these rays can be categorized as UVA and UVB rays, and a whopping 80% of them can actually penetrate water. The UV index will vary greatly based on the part of the world you’re in, the time of year, and the time of day. Especially when and where the UV index is high, unprotected skin can easily fall prey to sunburn.
Know the Truth About Sunburn
Sometimes we can take on an unhealthy perspective about sun damage, thinking that if we’ve already experienced sunburn (or maybe have a tan, already) that it doesn’t matter anymore whether we protect our skin. Just like a single poor food will have more significant effects on our bodies if we continue to make unhealthy food choices, so will continued direct exposure to the sun without protection. Each time your skin is subjected to direct sunlight when the UV index is high, more damage is being caused — whether a sunburn results or not.
Know What Happens with Sunburn
A sunburn is simply an inflammatory reaction of the outer layers of skin to the sun’s UV rays. Your skin’s melanin, the same pigment that provides a natural defense against these rays, does its job by darkening the portions of your skin that is exposed to the sun. While genetics plays a huge role in the amount of melanin that naturally occurs in your skin, you should know that tanning and burning both indicate damage that occurs on the cell level. Just like the a person’s skin’s individual response to sun exposure will vary, so will the degree of severity when it comes to sunburns. Sometimes it shows up as a light pink that’s only a little bit annoying, or it shows up as a painful blistering injury that requires medical attention. A blistering sunburn may end up leading to skin peeling off, as the damaged cells are shed.
So what should you do if you or your child does get a sunburn? We’ll tackle that question in the last 2 posts in this series. Continue reading with Part 4.
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