Have you experienced sunburn? Ever wondered how your skin gets burned under the sun? Well, contrary to popular belief, the skin gets burned not because of the sun’s heat, but due to the exposure of the skin to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun that causes an acute toxic reaction in the skin as manifested by swelling, redness and sometimes pain in the exposed body part, which can make those Land O Lakes chiropractor adjustments a bit uncomfortable.

Sunburns are different from thermal burns wherein the heat emitted by an object is directly placed on the skin causing burns. In sunburns, there is no direct contact with the sun’s heat, thereby; the ultraviolet radiation is responsible for the ‘burning’ effect on the skin.

How does Ultraviolet radiation cause Sunburn?

The exact mechanism of how sunburns takes place is not yet clearly understood, but a complex reaction in the skin is seen as a major factor for the development of signs and symptoms. The skin is composed of an outer layer, which is the epidermis. The topmost layer is composed of dead skin cells that continually shed off to bring out newer cells. When you are exposed to the ultraviolet radiation, these UV light actually goes beyond the top covering and damaging the inner layers of the epidermis.

Once the UV light is reflected on the skin for prolonged periods as in the case of sunburns, it damages the molecules in the skin leading to DNA damage as well. Any tissue injury eventually leads to the stimulation of the inflammatory cascades as a result of the production of enzymes and proteins such as cytokines and prostaglandins. When the inflammatory cascade is activated, the blood vessels on the affected skin area dilate causing the typical redness in the sunburned skin. The vasodilatation also leads to increased capillary permeability or the blood vessels allow the leakage of fluids in between the cells causing swelling. Moreover, prostaglandins and other cytokines activate or sensitize the nerve endings leading to a painful burning sensation in the sun-damaged parts of the skin.

However, sunburn symptoms do not immediately appear because it usually takes up to 4 to 6 hours for these processes to start. In this line, we do not see the effects of sunburn not until we are out of the sun.

When the skin is exposed to UV radiation longer, it may cause a direct or actual destruction of the skin layer. The body then compensates by producing a new skin layer to remove the dead and damaged cell leading to a common symptom of skin peeling after a few days.

It should be noted that getting a tan does not signify sunburn. It only means that the skin has adapted and increased its melanin production to absorb UV light better. The real sunburn happens when you begin feeling pain, see redness and a slight swelling in your skin.

Since the root cause of sunburns is exposure to UV light, various sunscreens are now available to mainly shield off the UV light from the skin. Moreover, darker-toned individuals are more protected from the UV light because of a denser melanin in their skin, which is a natural sunscreen.