Sunburns are beyond annoying, which is why I don’t spend very much time out in the sun. When your pasty white Irish blood causes you to fry like a pork sausage whenever you step out into a beautiful summer afternoon, chances are you’re going to try to avoid such contact as much as humanly possible. I’ll go outside just long enough to replenish my daily supply of Vitamin D, but that’s about it. If I can avoid activities in the sun, then I’m going to do it.
As it turns out, all of that pain and redness and agony and discomfort actually serves a very specific purpose. According to a stable of researchers from University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, the skin is attempting to purge damaged RNA cells during this period in order to keep the body in good working condition. The result of your body’s mission to rid itself of these radiation-saturated cells is the sunburn. Although it makes taking a hot shower painfully unbearable, believe it or not, it’s actually trying to keep you healthy.
“The inflammatory response is important to start the process of healing after cell death,” explained lead investigator Dr. Richard Gallo. “We also believe the inflammatory process may clean up cells with genetic damage before they can become cancer. Of course, this process is imperfect and with more UV exposure, there is more chance of cells becoming cancerous.”
Since the body’s process of getting rid of these sun-savaged cells is imperfect, how does one effectively lower the risk of developing skin cancer? My guess would be to limit the amount of time you spend basking in the glow of those harmful UV rays. Moderation is apparently the key.
Genetics also plays a part in how we deal with the effects of the sun, as well. “We know in our mouse genetic models that specific genes will change how the mice get sunburn,” Gallo added. “Humans have similar genes, but it is not known if people have mutations in these genes that affect their sun response.”
It’s worth noting, of course, that these results should be considered preliminary since they were obtain from laboratory mice.