Researchers have pinpointed what exactly is happening to our bodies when we get a sunburn.
University of California, San Diego School of Medicine researchers looked at skin cells of humans and mice that were exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. They found that UVB radiation prompts the skin cells to produce an altered kind of RNA. As a result, the other surrounding cells begin to have an "inflammatory response," which we see as a sunburn.
"We also believe the inflammatory process may clean up cells with genetic damage before they can become cancer," study researcher Dr. Richard L. Gallo, M.D., of UC San Diego and the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, said in a statement. "Of course, this process is imperfect and with more UV exposure, there is more chance of cells becoming cancerous."
Gallo said that the finding, published in the journal Nature Medicine, could have implications for people with health conditions that have to be treated with UV light -- such as people with psoriasis or lupus. Because UV exposure increases skin cancer risk, finding a way to block the harmful changes of UV radiation on the skin could help to reduce this risk, he said.
Even one sunburn is one too many -- the Skin Cancer Foundation reported that a single blister-producing sunburn as a kid or teen can more than double the risk of melanoma, a dangerous kind of skin cancer, later on. And in general -- not just in childhood or adolescence -- if a person has five or more sunburns, it doubles the risk of melanoma.
For tips on how to pick the right sunscreen to protect your skin, click through this slideshow: