Can the Sun Really Hurt Us?

Mackenzie Pearson

As the summer sun beamed down on us, the last thing on our minds was if we had enough sunscreen on.  Every year in high school, before classes had begun, we spent roughly a hundred hours outside with little to no shade.  To say we got sunburnt would be an understatement, but when you’re young, you do not think about the harm being done.  We think we are invincible, that sunburns only temporarily harm us but that nothing bad can happen.

That was until my friend in marching band had to have skin cancer removed at only sixteen years old.  A year later I forgot the importance of sun protection, that is until I got a second-degree sunburn on both shoulders, covering them with painful blisters.  Many of us do not understand how harmful a sunburn can be or how dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the sun is.  After learning more about what a sunburn does to your cells, I fully understand the importance of protecting my skin from UV radiation and the damage that it can cause.

The largest organ in our bodies is our skin, it protects us from harm, yet so few of us remember to protect our skin.  For as long as we can remember, we are taught that sunlight is important for our skin to make vitamin D; however, like all good things, sunlight is only beneficial in small amounts.  While a sunburn may only hurt for a few days, the real concern is the damage of genetic material, or DNA, in your skin cells that is caused by the ultraviolet radiation. 

On a molecular level, UV light, specifically UV-B, that is not blocked by melanin causes severe damage to the cell’s DNA.  The cells that are damaged beyond repair undergo apoptosis, which is cell death to prevent cancer from forming; meaning the sunburn peeling is our body’s way to remove dead skin cells that could have led to cancer.  If there is continued cell damage from ultraviolet radiation, then there is a higher chance that the irreversible mutation gets copied as cells divide and a tumor will form. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.  Skin cancers, such as melanomas and carcinomas, are more dangerous than we think, with more than two people dying every hour in the US.  In the United States, more skin cancers are diagnosed yearly than all other cancers combined; in fact, twenty percent of Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they reach seventy years old.  

It is important to mention that indoor tanning is often more dangerous and harmful than tanning outdoors.  In fact, studies have shown that more people develop skin cancers from tanning beds than develop lung cancer from smoking and each year; at least 419,000 skin cancer cases can be directly linked to the usage of indoor tanning beds.  While melanoma is much more dangerous, it is less common than other skin cancers; however, a history of sunburns during childhood may nearly double your risk of developing melanoma.  Melanoma, while less common than non-melanoma skin cancers, is riskier due to the increased ability for metastasis, meaning the cancer spreads into other tissues unless it is caught and treated early.

Since ultraviolet radiation is a proven carcinogen for humans, and found in sunlight, it is important to know how to protect our skin when outdoors.  The CDC suggests the use of sunscreen as it works on chemical levels to protect your skin from ultraviolet rays; however, sunscreen should be combined with other forms of sun protection for best results. 

Research into the effectiveness of sunscreen with a sun protection factor of fifteen or higher has shown that daily use can decrease chances of developing non-melanoma skin cancers by forty percent.  Using SPF fifteen or higher sunscreen can also decrease chances of developing melanoma by approximately fifty percent.  By wearing sunscreen, staying in the shade or avoiding prolonged sun exposure, and wearing protective clothing you can help lower your risk for developing skin cancer.   Everyone can become more aware of sun safety and the harm that can be caused by the sun.  In order to lower individuals’ risk for skin cancer, look into guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Skin Cancer Foundation, and Nation Institutes of Health. 

 The Skin Cancer Foundation is an organization made up of medical professionals that have been educating people about skin cancer prevention as well as helping fund research since 1979.  Some specific suggestions, from The Skin Cancer Foundation, on how to protect your skin include wearing sunscreen, staying in the shade, wearing sunglasses and hats, and avoiding tanning beds.  One way to know if your sun protection meets these suggestions is to look for the Skin Cancer Foundation seal of recommendation.  In order for products to receive the seal, they must be tested by the FDA and the Skin Cancer Foundation’s photobiology committee; therefore, the seal of recommendation is trusted by many consumers.

Remember, for a healthier future, we need to protect our skin.  Next time you plan to spend time outdoors, remember to wear sunscreen, stay in the shade as much as possible, and wear clothing that helps block UV rays.  By staying safe in the sun, you can help protect yourself from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation.  Also, make sure to spread the word to those around you to keep them healthy as well.  By being more careful in the sun, we can hopefully lessen our chances of developing skin cancer.

Categories: Lifestyle

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1 reply »

  1. Nice to see this here. I spent far too much time in the sun when I was younger. Even though I usually wore sunscreen, I had several very bad burns, and many milder ones. Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m in surgery for stage 2 malignant melanoma, just three days after the biopsy came back. You don’t think of it as much when you are young, and most people think of skin cancer as the carcinomas that are pretty obvious and can be removed. Not so much. Take care of your skin! Wear sunscreen whenever you go out (even a regular lotion that also has sunscreen is better than nothing). It’ll help keep you safe AND keep your skin looking younger and less wrinkly — and it’s cheaper than trying to repair damage later.

    But mostly, just do it because cancer is scary and it sucks. Nothing says you care about yourself like wearing sunscreen 🙂


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