What The Sun Is Really Doing To Your Skin

The sun feels good on your skin and gives you a healthy dose of vitamin D. But too much exposure to the sun can turn into an unhealthy situation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 60 thousand people each year contract skin cancer. Learn how to get the health benefits from your time in the sun without putting yourself at risk.

What You Can't See Does Hurt You

The sunlight you see includes three different wavelengths of light that you can't see:

  • Ultraviolet A (UVA) - This wavelength hits the Earth all year long. It goes through clouds and will penetrate glass and your clothes. This is the form of light responsible for creating your suntan.
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB) - These waves are most noticeable in the summer months. They can be blocked by thick clouds and will not go through glass and your clothing. This light only affects your tan if you're exposed to it for long periods.
  • Ultraviolet C (UVC) - This wavelength is filtered out by the ozone layer before it hits the surface of the Earth.

Overexposure to these UV waves kills healthy skin cells and stimulates the development of cancerous cells in your skin layers.

How Your Skin Responds to Sunlight

Your tan is actually your skin's response to potentially harmful sunlight. The skin produces a substance called melanin which absorbs the UV waves before they can damage the skin cells. As the melanin is exposed to more UV waves, it darkens, creating your tan. The more UV waves your skin absorbs, the darker the melanin becomes.

Your melanin can only protect you from a limited amount of the UV waves. Extended exposure to the sun allows the UVA waves to penetrate deeper into your skin. The UVB waves do not penetrate the surface of your skin. But both forms of light can stimulate the production of skin cancer cells.

When You've Had Too Much Sun

When your melanin can no longer protect you from the sun, your skin turns red as the cells begin to die. Further exposure to the sun can create large patches of dead skin and scar tissue. A dermatologist will need to remove that skin layer to allow new skin cells to form.

Scar tissue is the first step before cancer cells develop. Radiation therapy or skin cancer surgery is needed should cancer cells appear. Both treatments can leave disfiguring scars, especially if there is a large area of dead skin tissue.

Moderation is the Only True Protection

Suntan lotions only block some of the UV waves for a limited time. Not all lotions protect you from both UVA and UVB light. Clothing doesn't protect you from UVA waves. To make sure you're not putting yourself at risk for skin cancer, limit your time in the sun. Should you develop a burn, watch your skin closely for dry, rough skin that doesn't go away. This is a sign of scar tissue and it's time to see a dermatologist like Countryside Dermatology & Laser Center for an examination for cancerous cells.