Sunburns are a common occurrence in virtually any climate during the hot summer months. The complications from sunburns, however, may be extremely serious. Repeated sunburns can lead to extensive damage to the skin, including skin cancer.
The Causes of Sunburns
Sunburns are caused by an over exposure of skin to the direct UV rays of the sun. If damage to the skin is occurring, the body activates a natural defense mechanism to prevent further damage. This includes an increase in melanin, which causes the reddish color to the skin. Without this natural defense, even more damage would occur, potentially causing very harmful effects in a short period of time. Mild sunburns are generally harmless, but more severe sunburns may cause a variety of complications.
Sunburns and Skin Cancer
Sunburns cause damage to the DNA in skin cells. Once this damage occurs, the likelihood of cancer forming mutations greatly increases. In fact, avoiding sunburns is the most effective and most drastic way to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.
There are various forms of skin cancer that may develop from over exposure to the sun. The most deadly is melanoma. Research indicates melanoma is most commonly caused by brief and intense sun exposure which is most commonly happens with sunburns. It is easy to see that avoiding sunburns is an essential part of preventing this potentially life threatening disease. A melanoma appears as a small, dark area of skin which may resemble a mole.
Melanoma can be differentiated from a benign mole by examination. Typically, malignant melanoma tumors are asymmetrical, contain various shades of brown and black, are larger than moles, and frequently change size and shape. Suspected melanoma tumors will be checked for these characteristics by a physician.
Protection from Sunburns
Sunscreen is perhaps the best protection against sunburns and skin cancer there is. Whenever skin will be exposed to the sun for more than a few minutes, a layer of sunscreen on all parts of the body not covered by clothing is the best practice.
Sunscreen should be at least an SPF of 20, preferably more for better coverage. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and indicates the amount of protection from the sun is in the sunscreen. The higher the SPF number, the better the protection from the sun and skin cancer. Sunscreen should be re-applied every few hours and when finished swimming.
Other protection from the sun may also be effective, and should be considered for added protection. This includes wearing wide-brimmed hats, loose fitting clothing that covers the body, and avoiding the sun during peak exposure times during the afternoon hours.
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