The How Sunburns and Suntans work.

HOW SUNBURNS & SUNTANS
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How do sunburns and suntans work?



Every year as the hot weather begins, everyone starts becoming concerned about different skin and sun related issues. Conversations about fair skin, suntans, sunscreens, self-tanners, and sunburns all become quite commonplace due to the unique relationship that the skin and the sun have with each other. While it is a large part of the job for the skin to protect the body including the muscles, tissues, and organs from the harmful rays of the sun, the skin is also dependent on the sun in the way that it depends on the sun to supply it vitamins that it needs to maintain its general health and to aid in maintaining the rest of the body in proper health. To understand the relationship between the skin and the sun, you first must understand how the skin works.

Skin is a unique organ of the body in that it is one of the only organs that comes into contact with the external environment. This means that it needs to be much more effective when adapting to different environments, and is not as predictable as other organs for it deals with many changes on a regular basis, both internal and external. Skin is comprised of different cells and tissues and its primary purpose is to protect the rest of the body from the external environment. To better able it to be able to cope with these constant changes, the skin is full of sensors and the design is very tough so that it can stand up to things such as sunlight and abrasives.

The skin is comprised of three main layers. These are the dermis, the epidermis, and the subcutaneous layer. The dermis is the internal layer of the skin and this is where all of the things necessary to the skin’s function, such as cells, nerve endings, and so forth, are contained. The epidermis is the top layer of the skin that has the most contact with the outside world. This layer is primarily used for the protective function of the skin. The subcutaneous layer holds many of the blood vessels that are essential for the skin in order for it to work properly. The blood vessels in this level travel to the dermis and provide the hair follicles, cells, etc. with blood. However, once in the subcutaneous layer, the blood vessel seems to remain there in the capillary bed. These capillaries are important for maintaining the life of the dermis cells by supplying them with vital nutrients. The epidermis also draws from the capillaries and the blood vessels within the dermis for its blood and nutrient needs.

Although it is the epidermis layer that we see when looking at our skin, it’s really the dermis that is the major functioning component of the skin. It is here that sweat glands, hair follicles, and nerve endings are found. It is the hair follicles, and the tiny muscles that surround each one that can “make your hair stand on end.” The nerve endings are plenty in the skin and there are many of them including: heat sensitive, cold sensitive, pressure sensitive, itch sensitive, and pain sensitive. These nerve endings are responsible for sending signals to the brain when something is too hot or too painful and that allows your muscles to respond properly to prevent injury. It is also the nerve endings that allow a person to feel all of the wonderful things about the external world and sends messages to your brain that react with endorphins and adrenaline and such.

The epidermis is comprised of its own two layers. The top layer is what we can actually see and is comprised of dead skin cells. It’s these cells that we scrub off when we are exfoliating or that we can see flaking off after we get a sunburn. Even when there is no visible action happening on the epidermis, these cells are still dead and continue to be pushed off the skin by the inner layer of the epidermis. This top layer however also contains keratin. Keratin is a very tough protein that comprises much of the skin’s epidermis. To get a full understanding of how strong keratin is, consider that your nails are made up of keratin and that skin is the same thing but in a much thinner layer.

The inner layer of the epidermis is called the malpighian layer. It is layer that produces the dead skin cells and that is in close contact with the dermis for nutrition and support. It is also within this inner layer that the basal cell layer is. This is a layer of a certain type of cells and it is where basal cell cancer begins. Above that layer is the spinous layer and above that, the granular layer. It is the malpighian layer that is the main focus when talking about how suntans and sunburns work because it is here that all of the damage is caused.

One type of cell living with the basal cell layer are called melanocytes. It is these cells that produce melanin, which is the pigment that is needed for tanning. It is also the melanocytes that are responsible for turning harmful UV rays into cancerous cells when there is an overexposure to the sun’s rays. This type of cancer is called melanoma cancer because of the cells that are affected. It is the melanin pigment and the melanocytes that are the primary causes of suntans and sunburns. When UV rays come into contact with melanocytes, this causes a reaction and melanin is produced. This melanin covers the cells in order to protect them from the harmful rays. As more melanin is produced, the darker the skin becomes and the more it is protected. Because melanin takes quite some time to produce, the outer effects of it won’t be able to be seen immediately. This is why it takes several short periods of time over several days to produce a tan.

A sunburn occurs when melatonin is not produced to protect the cells. This means that the cells are completely open to absorb all the harmful UV rays and this damages the skin. The flow of blood is then immediately increased to the area so that the number of cells in the area can be increased and the cells can become more protected. The rushing of blood cells to the area results in the skin’s location appearing very red and can be extremely painful. In skin such as Caucasians, the melanocytes need to be stimulated in order to produce melanin. However, in those of different races and slightly darker to much darker skin, there is a continuous production of melanin always taking place. In these races, skin cancer is much less prevalent due to the natural protection that is already in effect.

Sunscreens are an artificial but extremely effective and important area of skin protection. Sunscreens work in two different ways to prevent the skin from coming into contact with too many harmful rays. The first way sunscreen works is by blocking the harmful ways. This type of sunscreen can be found in thick, opaque sunscreens such as zinc oxide that lifeguards that put on their noses. Absorbing the harmful rays is another way that sunscreen protects the skin from the sun and it does this by using different chemicals that aren’t only safe for the skin but help it! The SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, that sunscreen contains may be tricky for some to figure out but you can determine how much you need with simple multiplication. If you can stay outside for ten minutes and not see damaging effects of the sun, a sunscreen that has an SPF 10 will allow you to stay outside for 100 minutes (10 x 10.) However, it’s important to remember that sunscreen is only effective if it’s applied properly. It needs to cover the skin completely and should also be applied thirty minutes before going into the sun so that the skin can completely absorb it. It should also be reapplied often as it can wash off very easily, and this includes sweating.


Sunburns and Suntans.

 The How Sunburns and Suntans work of Sunburns and Suntans.

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