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What Happens To Our Skin During A Sunburn?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It's one of the worst parts of summer -- you forget to put on the sunscreen, turn into a lobster and can't stand to anything that even remotely rubs against you.

So, what happens to our skin during a sunburn? Good Question.

"It is actually burning," says Dr. Erin Luxenburg, a dermatologist with Hennepin Healthcare.

Within sunlight, there are number of kinds of radiation. There's visible, infrared (which causes us to feel heat) and ultraviolet or UV. It's the UV radiation that causes the tan and the burn.

When the UV rays hit the skin cells, the melanin, or pigment in the skin, tries to protect it. But, the melanin can't protect against too much UV light.  When there's too much, a person then tans or burns.

"That's your skin saying, help, I'm getting radiated," says Dr. Luxenburg.

When the UV rays hit the skin, they damage mutate the DNA.

"Every time they're mutated, there's a chance they might mutate towards a cancer," she says.

A burn is a more aggressive version of a tan. The reason people appear red with a tan is the blood vessels dilate and blood rushes to the burn to fix that damage that's been done. The redness, pain and swelling is an extreme inflammatory response.

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