HOW SUNBURNS & SUNTANS
THE LONGEST LIST OF THE LONGEST
STUFF AT THE LONGEST DOMAIN NAME AT LONG LAST
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 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.
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