What Happens to Skin When Exposed to Sunlight?

The largest organ in the human body is the skin as it stretches all around the body. It protects the body from external harm, yet it remains very sensitive to touch and the environment around it. The skin faces a variety of dangers including sharp objects, fire and leprosy, but the greatest of them all is sunlight.

What Happens to Skin When Exposed to Sunlight?

Some of the problems that come with sunlight include:

1. Sunburn

If you are exposed to the sun, a short term effect would be getting sunburns. When your skin gets burnt, it becomes red in color, feels hot and quite painful. The burnt skin might peel off after a few days. To soothe the uncomfortable feeling you can take a cool bath or shower or use soothing creams. You can cool the skin with after-sun lotions that have emollients that counter the tightness and dryness of the skin. For the pain, you can take ibuporefen or paracetamols. However, if you have serious sunburn it is important to consult a doctor.

Make sure that you protect your babies from getting sunburns. If they do get sun burnt, seek medical attention. The sun is not the only source of sunburns as you can also get them from sunlamps and sunbeds.

2. Heat Exhaustion

If your body temperature rises from 37°C, which is the normal body temperature, to 40°C, you suffer from heat exhaustion. If your body gets to that temperature, you will feel sick, sweat excessively, get headaches and even feel faint. Your body is becoming dehydrated because of water loss and might lead to a heat stroke, which can be severe.

To treat heat exhaustion, you should move to a cool place away from direct sunshine and drink a lot of cool liquids. Normally, you will recover within thirty minutes and you will not have any long-term problems. If you do not feel any better after 30 minutes, it is best to seek immediate medical attention.

3. Sunstroke/Heatstroke

If your body temperature is above 40°C, you are likely to suffer a heatstroke. In most cases it can be severe. Your body cells will begin to break down, important body functions will stop, some internal organs like the brain might fail, and in very serious cases death mighty occur.

The symptoms of a heatstroke include confusion, feeling sick or vomiting, loss of consciousness and hyperventilation (fast shallow breathing). If you notice this, it is important to seek medical assistance at once.

Treatment involves using intravenous drip to lower the body temperature back to normal.

4. Skin Cancer

Out of every 10 skin cancer patients, 8 or 9 of them might have been caused by excessive exposure to the sun. When you keep getting sunburns, your skin becomes damaged and increases the risk of skin cancer. Damaged skin cells are likely to become abnormal and hence cancerous.

5. Damage to the Skin

Your skin can get damaged if you are often exposed to intense sunlight. This might, however, take a couple of years to happen. The effects of skin damage include brown spots, wrinkling, premature ageing, non-cancerous warty growths (actinic keratosis) and also skin cancer.

6. Melanin Destruction

When you are exposed to the sun, the skin will produce melanin, a chemical that is meant to protect your skin from excessive UV rays. Melanin takes a few hours to be produced, so it is advisable to only take a few hours in direct sunlight to reduce getting sunburns and also to make sure that your skin is conditioned. Melanin is responsible for giving the skin a tanned glow and if you are very light, it can cause freckles. It is also meant to protect the skin from UV rays. If you are frequently exposed to UV rays and light, melanin might be produced in very low quantities thus lowering your skin's protection.

What happens to skin when exposed to sunlight? Watch the video below to get a clearer picture:

How to Protect Your Skin from Sunlight

We regularly have to go outside and thus are vulnerable to its harmful effects. However, you can take precaution when you are outside to keep your skin away from direct sunlight.

Some of the precautions to take include:

  • Always apply sunscreen. Make it part of your daily routines.
  • The sun is strongest between 10 am and 3 pm. It is best to avoid it because of the strong UV rays.
  • When going outside for long, especially in the middle of the day, try wearing clothes that will protect you from direct sunlight. You can wear wide-brimmed hat as well as long sleeves.
  • Have a set of sunglasses that will protect you from UV rays.

To achieve the best results from sunscreen, follow the following guidelines:

  • If you will be out in the sun for 30 or more minutes, you should apply the sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes prior to leaving the house.
  • Apply the sunscreen after every 3 hours if you are outside for long or perspiring heavily. You should do this even though it might be labeled “all day”.
  • Make sure to apply the sunscreen on all the parts of your body that will be exposed to the sun including ears, the face and the back of your hands.
  • In order to be fully protected, apply a generous layer of sunscreen on the exposed areas. Approximately 30 ml, which is equal to a shot glass, should be applied on all exposed parts.

When out in direct sunshine, make sure that you have covered your body well:

  • As mentioned above, wear a hat that has a wide brim that goes all the way around the hat. This way, it will cover your face and neck, which are most vulnerable to sunlight. Men mostly develop skin cancer on their backs, shoulders and the neck while women get it on their arms and legs. A baseball cap might not be as protective as it will only protect the face and not the neck. Other parts remain uncovered like the neck, ears and lower face. If you can get one with a cotton neck protector, it will come in handy. Children must also have hats with neck protectors.
  • When in the sun, a loose buggy T-shirt would be the best and even better if it has long sleeves to protect your hands. For the bottoms, buggy shorts will do just fine. The material for all of them should preferably be tightly woven so as not to let in sunlight.
  • Your eyes can be damaged by the sun as well. It is, therefore, important to wear wrap-round sunglasses and ensure that they offer protection against UV rays when you are buying them.
  • For women who use make up, it is important to apply sunscreen before you apply your make up. Do not wait to get to the beach to do so -the damage might already be done.
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