What is sunburn?

Too much sun can damage our skin and our health

(Image source: Pixabay)

Sunburn is caused by an overexposure to either sunlight or artificial UV rays. Sunburn doesn’t occur every time the skin is exposed, indeed low- level exposure often causes tanning, a darkening of the skin caused by an increase in levels of melanin, a pigment already present in skin.

Burning can be displayed as a reddening of the skin caused by groups of blood vessels expanding and breaking as blood rushes to the surface to attempt to heal the burn to living tissue. More severe sunburn can cause blistering of skin and often we see dehydration, dizziness and tiredness displayed alongside damage to the skin.

Skin damage caused by sunburn can sometimes cause non-malignant tumours and skin cancer to occur as the skin’s DNA becomes so damaged it cannot repair itself properly. We can lessen the chances of this by not exposing our skin for long periods of time and using sun creams which give the skin extra protection.

5 burning questions

1. Is sunscreen really waterproof?

No sunscreen is truly waterproof. They can be water-resistant but will need to be re-applied every few hours. Even sweat can affect it!

2. When is the sun most dangerous?

UV radiation is most intense between 10am to 2pm. In Australia, sunburn can occur in less than 15 minutes on a fine January day. UV radiation is not related to temperature.

3.  What is peeling 

Peeling is the body’s way of ridding itself of damaged skin cells that might develop into cancers. Damaged skin cells self-destruct and peel off in sheets.

4. How do we tan?

Skin colour depends on a pigment called melanin which protects your skin by absorbing UV radiation and it darkens when doing so, leaving you with a sun tan.

5.  Do clouds protect us?

On a cloudy day 30 to 50 per cent of the Sun’s UV rays reach your skin, so it’s still possible to burn. You may not feel the Sun’s rays if it’s windy, but they still cause damage.