It’s summer time again, which means beach trips, barbeques, and tanning. While enjoying the summer fun, it is important to take proper care of your skin. The sun emits damaging ultraviolet radiation, which can cause severe damage and possible mutation to skin cells. Mutations to the skin DNA can result in damage to tumor suppressing genes and the development of oncogenes in the skin cells. This damage can result in melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. In addition to skin cancer, sun damage can cause rashes and other blemishes than can be unsightly or irritating. Sun damage to skin can occur within fifteen minutes of exposure, but may take up to twelve hours before any sign of damage is visible (1).
While tanning is attractive, it can be a sign of damaged skin. The skin tans as a result of UVA radiation penetrating into the lower layers of the epidermis. These high energy rays trigger a response from melanocytes (melanin producing cells found in the stratum basale). These melanocytes produce melanin, which protects the body from UV radiation by dissipating most of it as heat. However, melanin cannot protect against UV radiation indefinitely. Prolonged UV exposure can result in sunburn, the result of skin damage and death. Over exposure to the sun can cause type I cell-death and increased melanin production, which can indicate DNA damage. (2)
To prevent skin damage, it is important to take certain precautions. Sun exposure is most damaging from 10:00 am- 4:00 pm, as this is when UV radiation is the strongest. It is important to seek shade whenever possible during these hours. When outdoors, wear protective clothing, including long sleeve shirts and pants that cover the legs whenever possible. Obviously in the hot summer months, this is difficult. To protect exposed skin, wear sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher with both UVA and UVB protection. (3). Protecting the eyes from UV damage is also important, and when possible, UVA and UVB protecting sun glasses should be worn.
A common misconception is that if it is cloudy, then there is no need for skin protection. Clouds only filter the harmful UV radiation, but they do not block them. Even if it is cloudy or overcast, it is still very important to wear sun screen or protective clothing to prevent skin damage.
The damage from UV exposure can be serious, and in some cases, lethal. When enjoying the outdoors this summer, it is important to take proper precautions to prevent skin damage.
Chris Gromisch is a Junior Chemistry major at Trinity College.