07/19/2015 10:21 am ET

Here's What's Actually Happening To Your Body When You Get A Sunburn

Make sure your SPF game is strong
Sunburn pattern on back of young woman spending a couple days at the beach
Getty Images
Sunburn pattern on back of young woman spending a couple days at the beach

We all know too much time in the sun can cause skin cancer, but do you know what's actually causing your sunburn?

A new video from SciSchow explains exactly how your skin goes from its natural color to  brown or bright red. As the video puts it, the sun is not actually burning you -- this process is a defense mechanism. Basically, you're causing the "burn" yourself.

The radiation in sunlight's ultraviolet spectrum can cause damage to the DNA in your skin cells, the video explains. UV radiation is divided into three different types:

  • UVA has less energy and a longer wavelength and is usually the UV radiation type responsible for tans.
  • UVB is in the middle, and can cause enough damage to lead to sunburn. 
  • UVC has a shorter wavelength and the most energy, but this one doesn't have much of an impact on the skin -- it's absorbed by the atmosphere. 

When the skin starts detecting UVA radiation, receptors produce special skin cells called melanocytes which produce extra melanin and darken skin color. 

UVB radiation, on the other hand, damages a cell's DNA. If too many cells are destroyed, it leads to an immune response that looks a whole lot like a sunburn.

While this information may have you rethinking your beach plans, it's worth noting that sunburns are preventable if proper precautions are taken.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends applying sunscreen with and SPF of 15 or higher regularly, staying the shade as often as possible and covering up with sunscreen and hats to prevent skin cancer -- and these tips certainly apply to sunburns as well. 

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