Almost all of us have experienced sunburn – and many of us were probably not wearing sunscreen at the time (Oops.) Maybe if we truly understood what was happening to our skin as we casually soaked up the sun we wouldn’t be so lax…
So what is sunburn?
Sunburn is the skin’s response to extreme ultraviolet (UV) exposure and indicates severe damage. The redness is the body’s inflammatory response in situations requiring repair and is a result of dilating blood vessels. Skin cells will start to thicken and melanin (pigment) will be produced (tanning) in an attempt to stop the UV rays from penetrating through to the deeper layers and damaging the DNA of the cells. When the skin is exposed to high levels of sunlight this may result in hypo or hyperpigmentation which appears as irregular light or dark patches. The body is excellent at coping with minimal amounts of damage, but if exposure is greater than the body’s ability to repair and mop up, more serious consequences may result. If DNA is damaged and its repair mechanisms are inhibited, skin cancer may occur.
So why does the skin peel?
Peeling after sunburn is your body’s way of getting rid of the damaged cells that are at risk of “losing control” and becoming cancerous. Due to this danger, all damaged cells are instructed to commit suicide by repair mechanisms within these cells. This mass suicide of cells results in whole layers of damaged skin peeling off, to be replaced by other cells underneath those layers.
I Have a Sunburn, What Should I Do Now?
First of all, drink plenty of water as you may be dehydrated. It is important to take down the inflammation and try to reduce damage to the deeper layers of your skin.
Take a cool bath (no products added) and then blot skin dry. Avoid greasy creams, which prevent the skin from cooling and may make the situation worse. Rather, apply generously a soothing after-sun gel to red areas and then stay out of the sun and the heat.
Look for ingredients such as Clove, Licorice, Lavender, Cucumber and Yucca to reduce irritation, pain and redness. And no, it is not ok to go out into the sun the next day for another blast! Remember, your skin is still trying to heal and so must be kept out of direct sunlight for a good few days. Keep in mind, the skin is a great record keeper and even with a great after-sun product, irreparable damage may have occurred in the form of premature aging or skin cancer that may only reveal itself later. Think twice next time you decide “just another ten minutes;” your immune system is listening!