What to do With Sunburns

The Science of Sunburns: How to Treat and Prevent UV-Damaged Skin

6 min read

feb 4, 2024 - by oneskin team
LIFE STYLE
What to do With Sunburns

The Science of Sunburns: How to Treat and Prevent UV-Damaged Skin

6 min read

feb 4, 2024 - by oneskin team
LIFE STYLE
Sunburns are a common but painful consequence of excessive sun exposure. Whether you've spent too much time lounging by the pool or forgot to reapply sunscreen during a day at the beach, a sunburn can leave your skin red, hot, and uncomfortable. In this article, we'll explore what causes sunburns, the different types of sunburns, why skin peels after a sunburn, and most importantly, how to treat and prevent sunburns effectively.
Sunburns are a common but painful consequence of excessive sun exposure. Whether you've spent too much time lounging by the pool or forgot to reapply sunscreen during a day at the beach, a sunburn can leave your skin red, hot, and uncomfortable. In this article, we'll explore what causes sunburns, the different types of sunburns, why skin peels after a sunburn, and most importantly, how to treat and prevent sunburns effectively.

What Causes a Sunburn?

Understanding the root cause of sunburn is essential to both treating and preventing it. Sunburn occurs when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds. UV rays can be classified into three main types, UVA, UVB, and UVC, based on their wavelengths. UVA, UVB, and UVC rays each have different effects on the skin due to their different penetration capabilities and energy levels. While UVA rays can contribute to premature aging and skin cancer, UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn and can directly damage DNA. Protecting your skin from UVA and UVB exposure is vital for maintaining skin health and minimizing the risk of sun-related skin issues. While you’re less likely to encounter UVC in your daily life, it's still equally as important to remain cautious of any potential sources.Ultraviolet A (UVA) makes up the majority of the UV radiation that reaches the Earth's surface. UVA rays have a longer wavelength compared to UVB and UVC rays and are thus the least energetic. Still, while they carry less energy than UVB and UVC rays, UVA rays can penetrate the skin more deeply into the dermis (skin’s middle layer) due to their long wavelength. This is why UVA rays are a significant contributor to premature skin aging, as they lead to collagen degradation and increased senescence, causing wrinkles, fine lines, and a loss of skin elasticity
.1
Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays have a shorter wavelength and higher energy than UVA rays. Despite being partially absorbed by the Earth's ozone layer, a significant amount of UVB rays reach the Earth's surface, and due to their higher energy, they have more immediate and direct effects on the skin. Most notably, UVB is the wavelength responsible for most sunburns and damage done to the DNA, thus increasing the risk of cancer.2 When your skin is exposed to UVB radiation, it triggers a protective response. As a result, your skin produces melanin, a pigment responsible for the skin's color, in an attempt to shield itself from further damage. This is what gives you your golden tan after spending time in the sun. However, if the UV exposure is too intense or prolonged, your skin's defenses can become overwhelmed, resulting in a sunburn.3

What Causes a Sunburn?

Understanding the root cause of sunburn is essential to both treating and preventing it. Sunburn occurs when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds. UV rays can be classified into three main types, UVA, UVB, and UVC, based on their wavelengths. UVA, UVB, and UVC rays each have different effects on the skin due to their different penetration capabilities and energy levels. While UVA rays can contribute to premature aging and skin cancer, UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn and can directly damage DNA. Protecting your skin from UVA and UVB exposure is vital for maintaining skin health and minimizing the risk of sun-related skin issues. While you’re less likely to encounter UVC in your daily life, it's still equally as important to remain cautious of any potential sources.Ultraviolet A (UVA) makes up the majority of the UV radiation that reaches the Earth's surface. UVA rays have a longer wavelength compared to UVB and UVC rays and are thus the least energetic. Still, while they carry less energy than UVB and UVC rays, UVA rays can penetrate the skin more deeply into the dermis (skin’s middle layer) due to their long wavelength. This is why UVA rays are a significant contributor to premature skin aging, as they lead to collagen degradation and increased senescence, causing wrinkles, fine lines, and a loss of skin elasticity
.1
Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays have a shorter wavelength and higher energy than UVA rays. Despite being partially absorbed by the Earth's ozone layer, a significant amount of UVB rays reach the Earth's surface, and due to their higher energy, they have more immediate and direct effects on the skin. Most notably, UVB is the wavelength responsible for most sunburns and damage done to the DNA, thus increasing the risk of cancer.2 When your skin is exposed to UVB radiation, it triggers a protective response. As a result, your skin produces melanin, a pigment responsible for the skin's color, in an attempt to shield itself from further damage. This is what gives you your golden tan after spending time in the sun. However, if the UV exposure is too intense or prolonged, your skin's defenses can become overwhelmed, resulting in a sunburn.3

What Are the Different Types of Sunburns?

Sunburns can vary in severity, with three main categories:
  1. First-Degree Sunburn:
    This is a mild sunburn that only affects the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin), and is characterized by skin irritation, redness, pain, and slight swelling. This response is caused by the release of inflammatory molecules known as cytokines and prostaglandins. This form of sunburn will typically heal in a few days with proper care.4
  2. Second-Degree Sunburn:
    A more severe sunburn, second-degree sunburn involves damage that has penetrated deeper into both the epidermis and dermis (the two outermost layers). This results in blistering and symptoms of a first-degree burn. The blisters that form are filled with a fluid known as serum and are an attempt by the body to heal itself. Consequently, you should not attempt to pop these blisters as healing may take longer with an increased risk of infection.4
  3. Third-Degree Sunburn:
    The most severe form of sunburn, third-degree sunburn can cause significant skin damage, leading to open sores, deep blisters, and extreme pain. Medical attention is necessary for third-degree sunburns.4

What Are the Different Types of Sunburns?

Sunburns can vary in severity, with three main categories:
  1. First-Degree Sunburn:
    This is a mild sunburn that only affects the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin), and is characterized by skin irritation, redness, pain, and slight swelling. This response is caused by the release of inflammatory molecules known as cytokines and prostaglandins. This form of sunburn will typically heal in a few days with proper care.4
  2. Second-Degree Sunburn:
    A more severe sunburn, second-degree sunburn involves damage that has penetrated deeper into both the epidermis and dermis (the two outermost layers). This results in blistering and symptoms of a first-degree burn. The blisters that form are filled with a fluid known as serum and are an attempt by the body to heal itself. Consequently, you should not attempt to pop these blisters as healing may take longer with an increased risk of infection.4
  3. Third-Degree Sunburn:
    The most severe form of sunburn, third-degree sunburn can cause significant skin damage, leading to open sores, deep blisters, and extreme pain. Medical attention is necessary for third-degree sunburns.4

Why Does Skin Peel After Sunburn?

After experiencing a sunburn, you might notice your skin peeling. This peeling is referred to as desquamation and is a natural part of the body's self-renewal and healing processes. When your skin is damaged by UV radiation, it undergoes skin inflammation and begins to repair itself. Deep within your skin, keratinocytes form the bulk of the cells in the epidermis, producing keratin to provide strength and protection to the skin. As these cells age they move upward through the epidermis, changing shape and composition, eventually filling with keratin and flattening out. This final form is referred to as corneocytes, which are the dead skin cells making up the outermost layers of your skin. Your skin naturally sheds these cells as the ones beneath are replaced with newer, younger cells – however, this process can accelerate in the event of damage. In order to repair the sun damaged skin
(such as in a sunburn or skin irritation), the renewal process is shifted into overdrive, and the shedding of old and damaged corneocytes becomes more noticeable.5 While it can be unsightly and itchy, it's a sign that your body is working to heal and renew the affected area.

Why Does Skin Peel After Sunburn?

After experiencing a sunburn, you might notice your skin peeling. This peeling is referred to as desquamation and is a natural part of the body's self-renewal and healing processes. When your skin is damaged by UV radiation, it undergoes skin inflammation and begins to repair itself. Deep within your skin, keratinocytes form the bulk of the cells in the epidermis, producing keratin to provide strength and protection to the skin. As these cells age they move upward through the epidermis, changing shape and composition, eventually filling with keratin and flattening out. This final form is referred to as corneocytes, which are the dead skin cells making up the outermost layers of your skin. Your skin naturally sheds these cells as the ones beneath are replaced with newer, younger cells – however, this process can accelerate in the event of damage. In order to repair the sun damaged skin
(such as in a sunburn or skin irritation), the renewal process is shifted into overdrive, and the shedding of old and damaged corneocytes becomes more noticeable.5 While it can be unsightly and itchy, it's a sign that your body is working to heal and renew the affected area.

How to Treat a Sunburn

If you find yourself with sunburnt skin, there are several steps you can take for sunburn relief and promote healing:
  • Cool the Skin: Take a cool bath or shower to lower your skin's temperature. You may also apply cold compresses to the sunburned areas. While this will not cure a sunburn, it can help soothe inflammation and decrease pain.
  • Stay Hydrated:
    Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, as the compromised skin barrier can increase trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), thus drying out your skin.6 Furthermore, try to avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they can dehydrate the body further.
  • Use Over-the-Counter Products: Aloe vera gel can help soothe and moisturize the skin, replacing the water lost due to TEWL. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Avoid Irritants: Wear loose, breathable clothing to minimize friction on sunburned skin. You may also wish to stay away from harsh soaps and detergents that can exacerbate irritation.
  • Seek Professional Medical Assistance if Necessary: For severe sunburns with blistering, it may be necessary to seek medical attention to prevent severe infection. In particular, dermatologists can provide specialized care for extensive sun damage.

How to Treat a Sunburn

If you find yourself with sunburnt skin, there are several steps you can take for sunburn relief and promote healing:
  • Cool the Skin: Take a cool bath or shower to lower your skin's temperature. You may also apply cold compresses to the sunburned areas. While this will not cure a sunburn, it can help soothe inflammation and decrease pain.
  • Stay Hydrated:
    Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, as the compromised skin barrier can increase trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), thus drying out your skin.6 Furthermore, try to avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they can dehydrate the body further.
  • Use Over-the-Counter Products: Aloe vera gel can help soothe and moisturize the skin, replacing the water lost due to TEWL. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Avoid Irritants: Wear loose, breathable clothing to minimize friction on sunburned skin. You may also wish to stay away from harsh soaps and detergents that can exacerbate irritation.
  • Seek Professional Medical Assistance if Necessary: For severe sunburns with blistering, it may be necessary to seek medical attention to prevent severe infection. In particular, dermatologists can provide specialized care for extensive sun damage.

How to Prevent Sunburn

Prevention is the key to avoiding the pain and potential long-term consequences of sunburns. Here are some effective ways to protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation:
  • Sunscreen: Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply it generously to all exposed skin, including your face, neck, arms, and legs. It is important to wear sunscreen indoors and you should also reapply every two hours when outdoors.
  • Protective Clothing: Wear long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses, and use UV-protective umbrellas to shield your skin and eyes from UV rays.
  • Seek Shade: When the sun is at its strongest, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., seek shade whenever and wherever possible.
  • Limit Sun Exposure: Take breaks indoors during prolonged sun exposure. Be mindful of reflective surfaces like water, sand, and snow, which can intensify UV rays.
OneSkin's OS-01 SHIELD can be a valuable addition to your sun protection regimen as it offers 100% mineral broad-spectrum protection with SPF 30 PA+++. OS-01 SHIELD includes non-nano zinc oxide, our preferred mineral filter for UV protection, which provides superior protection against both UVA and UVB rays compared to titanium dioxide due to its better absorption capacity for ultraviolet radiation. In OS-01 SHIELD’s formulation, you will find antioxidants that help combat free radicals generated by UV exposure, reducing oxidative stress on your skin
. The OS-01 peptide has also been shown to prevent UVB-induced senescence and collagen degradation through lab studies on human skin cells.7 By incorporating OS-01 SHIELD (available in untinted and sheer tinted versions) into your daily skin care routine, you can enjoy comprehensive protection against UV damage and promote healthier, more resilient skin.

How to Prevent Sunburn

Prevention is the key to avoiding the pain and potential long-term consequences of sunburns. Here are some effective ways to protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation:
  • Sunscreen: Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply it generously to all exposed skin, including your face, neck, arms, and legs. It is important to wear sunscreen indoors and you should also reapply every two hours when outdoors.
  • Protective Clothing: Wear long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses, and use UV-protective umbrellas to shield your skin and eyes from UV rays.
  • Seek Shade: When the sun is at its strongest, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., seek shade whenever and wherever possible.
  • Limit Sun Exposure: Take breaks indoors during prolonged sun exposure. Be mindful of reflective surfaces like water, sand, and snow, which can intensify UV rays.
OneSkin's OS-01 SHIELD can be a valuable addition to your sun protection regimen as it offers 100% mineral broad-spectrum protection with SPF 30 PA+++. OS-01 SHIELD includes non-nano zinc oxide, our preferred mineral filter for UV protection, which provides superior protection against both UVA and UVB rays compared to titanium dioxide due to its better absorption capacity for ultraviolet radiation. In OS-01 SHIELD’s formulation, you will find antioxidants that help combat free radicals generated by UV exposure, reducing oxidative stress on your skin
. The OS-01 peptide has also been shown to prevent UVB-induced senescence and collagen degradation through lab studies on human skin cells.7 By incorporating OS-01 SHIELD (available in untinted and sheer tinted versions) into your daily skin care routine, you can enjoy comprehensive protection against UV damage and promote healthier, more resilient skin.
Key Takeaways:
  • Understanding Sunburn Causes: Sunburn occurs due to excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds.
  • Different Types of Sunburns: Sunburns can vary in severity, with first-degree sunburn being mild, second-degree sunburn involving blistering, and third-degree sunburn being the most severe, characterized by the highest level of sunburn pain and requiring medical attention.
  • How to Treat Sunburns: While there are no cures for sunburns besides time, you may accelerate the healing process by keeping yourself hydrated and the sunburnt area moisturized. Consider our peptide facial moisturizer and peptide body lotion to moisturize the damaged skin.
  • Preventing Sunburns: Preventing sunburnt skin is crucial for maintaining healthy skin and involves using sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, wearing protective clothing, seeking shade during peak sun hours, and limiting sun exposure.
Key Takeaways:
  • Understanding Sunburn Causes: Sunburn occurs due to excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds.
  • Different Types of Sunburns: Sunburns can vary in severity, with first-degree sunburn being mild, second-degree sunburn involving blistering, and third-degree sunburn being the most severe, characterized by the highest level of sunburn pain and requiring medical attention.
  • How to Treat Sunburns: While there are no cures for sunburns besides time, you may accelerate the healing process by keeping yourself hydrated and the sunburnt area moisturized. Consider our peptide facial moisturizer and peptide body lotion to moisturize the damaged skin.
  • Preventing Sunburns: Preventing sunburnt skin is crucial for maintaining healthy skin and involves using sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, wearing protective clothing, seeking shade during peak sun hours, and limiting sun exposure.
By Felix Tajanko: Felix is studying Bioengineering at the University of California - San Diego and is passionate about scientific writing, as well as the research of menopausal endocrinology and microhemodynamics.
By Felix Tajanko: Felix is studying Bioengineering at the University of California - San Diego and is passionate about scientific writing, as well as the research of menopausal endocrinology and microhemodynamics.

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

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