Whether it be germs and bacteria or harmful microscopic organisms, there are a lot of things in our environment that could hurt us if they get into our bodies. In fact, it’s because of the unseen dangers around us that the outer layers of our skin even exist. But, while bacteria pose a very real risk for us, the main element that our skin protects us from is actually the sun itself. We all know that excess sun exposure isn’t a good thing, but few people truly understand what physical effects the sun has on our cells. Gaining this knowledge is half the battle in preventing sunburns—and the conditions you may face later in life because of them. This is the science of skin damage caused by the sun and what you can do to protect yourself.

What Is Ultraviolet Radiation?

As the sun shines brightly in the sky above us, it’s releasing various types of energy at different wavelengths and intensities. This energy is essential to ecological processes across the planet, and it’s the key to most life and nutrient absorption. For humans, specifically, a healthy amount of sunlight can help our bodies generate vitamin D, which is an important component of stable health throughout our lives.

Ultraviolet radiation is the type of light that we have direct experience with on Earth, as it’s the most effective at breaking through our thick atmosphere. Though they’re completely invisible to the eye, it’s these rays that have the most influence on the state of our skin. The category of ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays, breaks down into three subtypes—UVA, UVB, and UBC rays. Each of these subtypes has different wavelengths and, therefore, interacts with the environment in diverse ways.

For starters, UVA rays have the longest wavelength and can touch the Earth’s surface. As such, it’s this type of light that soil, plants, animals, and humans have contact with most often. At higher altitudes, we could also encounter UVB rays. This type has a shorter wavelength but can still break the atmosphere. UVC rays, on the other hand, we rarely have any contact with because, while their waves are powerful, they don’t extend far enough to reach through the atmosphere. So, as a general rule, when we discuss the UV rays that cause harm to our skin, it’s both UVA and UVB rays that we’re referring to.

The Correlation to Sunburns

Once you understand what UV rays are and what they do, the science of skin damage caused by the sun is a simple matter of cause and effect. When we spend any amount of time in direct sunlight, these rays beat down on the surface of our skin and quickly begin to overwhelm our cells with energy. Our skin attempts to protect itself from the intense rays and heat by producing a higher amount of melanin. Melanin, the dark pigment that deepens our skin tone, helps the skin better absorb the energy from the sun and protect our cells from the damage it could cause. However, that natural protection can only help for so long before the epidermis—the outermost layer of the skin—becomes overwhelmed and develops severe cell damage. Over time, this damage spreads to other cells and results in the bright red rash we know as a sunburn. We can delay the development of a sunburn with the regular use of sunscreen, but even then, you still need to be careful when spending time outdoors.

The Effects Following Skin Damage

Unfortunately, a painful burn isn’t the only effect UV rays can have on a person’s skin. Once the epidermis becomes damaged by the burn, it’s no longer able to keep the rays from penetrating further into the layers underneath. This can cause additional damage, undetectable with evident symptoms, and lead to the development of certain blemishes later in life. Collagen, in particular, can be targeted by intense UV rays and break down the molecules providing the skin with its elasticity. This makes you especially susceptible to developing fine lines and wrinkles earlier than you normally would. Some other skin conditions that can result from sun damage include hyperpigmentation and even skin cancer in severe instances. It’s crucial that you find ways to protect yourself from this advanced skin damage if you want to maintain beautiful, healthy skin.

How to Mitigate Skin Damage From the Sun

Among the most important ways to protect your skin from the sun is to wear sunscreen and be conscious of how much time you’re spending in direct sunlight. The sunscreen you choose should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and you should reapply it every two to three hours for the most optimal level of protection. Sweat or swimming can also cause some of the product to wash off, so be aware that you may need to reapply your sunscreen more often in these cases.

Make sure, as well, that you’re giving your skin regular breaks by going inside to cool off. Regardless of how effective your sunscreen is, being out in the sun for long periods can still cause dehydration and sap your skin of its moisture. Fluids allow the skin to revitalize itself when it’s under stressful conditions and bounce back from any damage it has sustained. Because of this, keeping yourself hydrated while in the sun can also reduce the long-term effects of cell damage.

The sun is the leading cause of many of our most common skin conditions and problems. As such, we all need skincare treatments that work to protect us from these harmful rays and counteract the damage sustained throughout the day. At Flawless Beauty & Skin, we set out to provide you with those very products for your skincare routine. From anti-aging serums to skin whitening and brightening creams and lotions, our supply of beauty and skincare products online has options to cater to your needs. Additionally, we also offer optimized nutrition supplements and immune boosters to assist your skin in protecting itself from the sun and provide it with the building blocks to repair any damage.