What Really Causes a Sunburn (and How to Treat It Fast!)

By Laura Schwecherl
6/10/2013 9:38:42 AM

With the summer sun still beating down, spending quality time outdoors is a given. But whether we forget to slather on SPF or simply have skin whiter than snow, many fall victim to nasty, no-fun sunburns. Find out what actually causes the skin to burn to a pesky crisp, and how to soothe the sore in no time.

Credit: Greatist

Burning Man - The Need-to-Know

There's nothing to laugh about when it comes to this type of roasting. Sunburns are most common among adults 18 to 29 years old (guilty as charged), with 65 percent of white adults reporting at least one sunburn per year.

Surprise! It's not the heat that causes the burn - it's excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. When exposed to UV rays released from the sun, the skin produces melanin, a substance that protects us from the sun and gives our skin its color. However, when we come in contact with too many UV rays (hello, beach bums), the body can't produce enough melanin to protect the skin. It normally takes a few hours for a sunburn to actually become visible, so we may be in the red even before the burn even appears.

But it goes beyond red skin and weird tan lines. In some cases, blisters can form, and the skin may even swell - a condition called edema. In more severe situations, sunburn can turn into sun poisoning, which can cause fevers, chills, and nausea. How we react to the sun (aka how much melanin we can produce) is mainly based on genetics, but we should all slather on the sunscreen just to be safe.

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