What causes sunburn?

While the process itself is not known in complete detail, UV (ultraviolet) radiation from the sun, mainly UVB rays, causes damage to cells, which leads to cell death. Layers of the skin also thicken as a result of certain types of skin cells dying, and the redness is due to the response of the skin's blood vessels.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)

Sunburn is caused by over-exposure to the sun's rays. In an attempt to protect itself from the burning rays, the skin releases the pigment melanin to darken it's exposed layers. Heredity dictates just how much melanin is released and how much protection is provided.

Use a sunscreen and wear protective clothing to safeguard your skin from the sun's harmful rays.

Sunburn is caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet light. Everyone reacts differently to the sun's rays -- some people sunburn faster than others. For some, sunburn begins within 15 minutes of exposure. If you think you are going to be out in the sun for 15 minutes or longer, take precautions to protect yourself from the sun's rays.

There are times when you may think that you are protected from the sun's rays, when in fact, you are not. Clouds do not screen out the ultraviolet rays. It is possible to get sunburned on an overcast day just as easily as on a bright and sunny day. Wearing a hat alone may not always protect your face from the sun. Snow, water and sand reflect the sun's rays. Be aware of these factors when staying outdoors, and always wear sunscreen on exposed skin.

The amount of melanin (the substance that affects the color and tone of your skin) in your skin affects how fast you will burn. People with fair skin sunburn faster than those with darker skin do. Also, certain medications (including some antibiotics and contraceptives) can increase a person's sensitivity to the sun.

Avoid exposure to the sun's rays between the hours of 11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M., when they are at their peak. Take special care to prevent sunburn during those hours. Always wear sunscreen and wear a hat, if possible.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.