Your skin & sunburn

Your Skin & Sunburn

Your Skin & Sunburn

Do you know that 35% of us Brits last summer were getting sunburnt? 1 in 3 of us have had painful red burnt skin, some even with blisters and most of us with peeling skin following too much time in the sun without protection, so lets talk about Your Skin & Sunburn. So what actually happens to your skin during a sunburn? You get DNA damage! Know that sunburn is a radiation burn caused when the UV rays damage DNA in the upper layers of skin.

What is ultraviolet radiation?

UV radiation is part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum that reaches earth from the sun. It has wavelengths shorter than visible light, making it invisible to the naked eye.
The sun emits three kinds of UV rays – UVA, UVB and UVC. The last one UVC is mostly absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere, however UVA and UVB rays reach the ground and can penetrate unprotected skin.

UVA causes lines & wrinkles

UVA has the longest wavelength which can penetrate the epidermis – the top layer of skin – and goes deeper into the middle layer of skin – the dermis where the collagen fibres are. The particles that transmit light, photons, from UVA rays damage’s the skin collagen as well as DNA.

Photons from UVB rays are absorbed by DNA and the extra energy causes some of our DNA to link up wrongly. This action prevents accurate DNA replication and so cells start to repair to fix the mistakes. Too many DNA mistakes overwhelm the cell, causing it to self-destruct in order to remove the cells that cannot be safely replicated.

Immune invasion

When the cells in the epidermis, called keratinocytes, detect DNA damage. They start to produce molecules to attract immune cells into the skin. This action causes the skin’s blood vessels to leak into the spaces between cells and it is this extra fluid combined with the swelling that lead to red skin. So we can feel this red, hot and painful sensitivity of sunburnt skin.

While you are sitting on the beach, immune cell invasion begins. This increases an hour after you have come in from the sun. This process peaks 24 to 48 hours later which is why the red, painful, inflamed sunburn can keep developing for a couple of days.

Some of the immune cells start cleaning up skin cells in self-destruct mode while other immune cells release chemicals that further damage weakened cells. These actions in some of us can trigger an allergic reaction which makes the skin itchy.

In a few hours you will see blisters form where whole layers of skin cells (keratinocytes) have been killed. The dead layer lifts away from the layers underneath and the space between fills up with the fluid that has leaked into the skin.

Get ready for next time

Once the skin inflammation subsides, the lower layer of the skin (basal layer) begins to grow quickly to replace the dead cells. Have you experienced post-sunburn skin with peeling? Peeling in large sheets of dead skin cells which are being shed from the outer layer of skin (epidermis) to make way for this new growth.

DNA damage causes the cells in the upper layer of skin to signal the cells (melanocytes).  These produce melanin, which is the pigment that gives our hair and skin it’s colour, to get to work. This is when you become tanned. The melanin settles over the skin cells to shield them for future UV exposure. But never rely on your tan to fully protect your skin the next time – it’s only as protective as Sun Protection Factor 2!

What you should do if you have sunburn

  • Stay out of the sun obviously
    Drink gallons of water to hydrate your dehydrated skin and body
    Apply a cool compress to affected skin
    Apply aftersun lotion e.g. aloe vera lotion
    Take paracetamol

When you do go outside again after your sunburn has subsided, ensure that you apply a shot-full of sunscreen all over prior to going out. Wear UV protection clothing, put on a hat and wear huge sunglasses.

Pro Tip: Download a terrific little app on your smartphone called UV Lens. It can tell you all about the UV index, how long it will take for your skin to burn, what SPF you should apply for what activity you will be doing and you can set it for an automatic reapplication reminder. How good is that?!!