“What’s a little bit of sun?” “It’s not very sunny today. I don’t need to wear sunscreen.” “Oh, it’s just a little burn. Not a big deal.” “I just need a touch of sun so I don’t look so white.”
Let’s take a closer look.
What Causes Sunburn?
A sunburn is caused by exposure to too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun. UVA are long wavelengths and UVB are short wavelengths of ultraviolet light. It is not the sunlight itself that causes sunburn, but the presence and strength of the UVA and/or UVB rays. That’s why on a cloudy day you can still get a sunburn. In fact, “[a]s much as 90 percent of UV rays pass through clouds. UV rays can also reflect off snow, ice, sand, water and other reflective surfaces [including white or bright colored clothing] and can burn your skin as badly as direct” sun exposure. (MayoClinic.com)
Your body produces a pigment called melanin, which gives your skin its normal colors. The darker your skin the more melanin your body produces. When you are exposed to ultraviolet light your body produces more melanin to protect the deeper layers of the skin resulting (at least in lighter skinned people) a suntan.
“A suntan is actually your body’s way of blocking the UV rays to prevent sunburn and other skin damage.” (MayoClinic.com) Some people genetically do not produce enough melanin to protect the skin well, and eventually skin burns.
Unlike a burn resulting from direct contact with a heat source (eg: fire or stove element), the skin doesn’t redden right away. By the time pain is felt, the damage has already been done. “Sunburn in a very light-skinned person may occur in less than 15 minutes of noonday sun exposure ...” (University of Notre Dame).
Still think a sunburn is no big deal? Let’s look at some statistics.
Results of Long-Term Sunburn or Sun Exposure
Long-term UVA and UVB exposure (including tanning beds) is the leading cause of both basal and squamous cell cancers ... the most common form of cancer in Canada and the United States.