What Actually Happens to Your Body When You Get Sunburned?

A sunburn is more than just red skin. There’s a whole process to it.

Man putting on sunscreen, what actually happens when you sunburn?

We’ve all been sunburned before, but what actually happens to your body when you get sunburned? Here are just a few processes that occur when you’ve soaked up a bit too many sun rays:

What is a sunburn?

A sunburn is your body’s natural reaction to damage caused by too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Sunburns instantly damage the outermost layer of skin, called the epidermis. 

The American Cancer Society has stated that people with fair skin and light hair are more at risk for sunburns, due to their skin’s lack of melanin (which is a molecule that controls skin pigment). But regardless of what shade your skin is, you should always wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen when you’ll be spending time outside.

Related: How to Choose Sunscreen and When To Reapply

Why is your skin red?

As soon as your skin has soaked up too much sun, your body responds. The redness and pain sunburns cause are from your body’s immune system kicking in and its natural inflammatory response. Extra blood is also sent into the damaged skin to help heal the skin cells.

Can you pop the blisters?

When you suffer a particularly bad sunburn, you might find your skin covered with blisters after a few hours. But blisters actually have a purpose other than being super painful and irritating. These blisters are filled with plasma and create a sort of shield to prevent any extra damage while your skin heals. But you should never touch or pop the blisters, because popping them can increase your risk for infection.

Why does your skin peel?

Peeling skin is a result of the healing process! Your body begins to replace the skin that was damaged by regenerating. But just like the blisters, it’s important to allow it to peel on its own. And, even more importantly, make sure you cover the new skin in the peeling area thoroughly with sun block before exposing it to the sun again.

Whether you tan or your skin turns back to normal after a sunburn, if you have suffered sunburns over the years, it’s important for you to visit a dermatologist for a skin cancer check every so often. Skin cancers normally don’t develop until quite a few years down the road after sun exposure. Pay attention to any changing moles or strange patches of skin on your body. The American Cancer Society has a suggested self-evaluation that can be incorporated into a monthly check as well.

Related: Should You Put On Sunscreen or Bug Repellent First?


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