Your Own Body Is Actually The Cause of Sunburn

Dan Wiggins

by Dan Wiggins

23rd July 2015

Most of us know the feeling, when your skin is exposed to the sun for a long period of time and it starts to go a little pink and tender. But do we know why our skin actually turns pink and burnt when exposed to the sun? It’s probably not the reason you’re expecting. You see, your skin doesn’t actually burn from exposure to the sun, but rather your own body causes the pink-ness on your skin that we see as sunburn.

It’s a self defense mechanism, the body employs when exposed to UV rays from the sun that creates a toxic chemical reaction, thus causing the body to change to a slightly pinkish colour. Simply put, you’re actually burning yourself. 

The radiation from the suns three different UV spectrum can trigger a defense mechanism in your body, as it causes damage to the DNA in your skin cells. A fantastic video from SciShow explains this toxic reaction extremely well.

What happens when you get Sunburn?

When you’re skin detects the ultraviolet radiation from the sun, the receptor cells produce additional, special cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that produce melanin and are located in the bottom of the skins epidermis, such as the inner ear, the middle layer of the eye and the heart. Melanin is the pigment responsible for skin colour. When the body detects UV radiation, extra melanin is produced and darkens skin color.

“When your body senses sun damage, what it does is it starts sending out melanin into surrounding cells and tries to protect them and shield them from getting more damage”

-Dr. Gary Chuang, Tufts University School of Medicine.

Fear not, there are still ways in which you can avoid this toxic chemical reaction. It’s not as daunting as you may think, in fact, we already know exactly how we should stay safe in the sun. And that is by keeping in the shade, applying sun cream of at least SPF15 and making sure you’re not sitting out in the sun for too long in one go. This is sure to cut down on the amount of sunburn your body produces. After sun is also an excellent product for cooling down the skin after it has been sun burnt, this will not bring down the redness, or stop the sunburn, but will ease side effects such as itchiness and blistering.

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