Your Skin and Sunburns

July 28, 2018 | Jennifer Murphy

Caring for the skin you’re in: Staying safe in the sun

As a massage therapist I’ve seen a lot of skin. Dry skin, dark skin, pale skin, skin with freckles freckles, skin with scars, moles and the list could go on! Not much about skin really surprises me.

Except when it does. Suddenly, that brown spot on your shoulder has changed shape or color. Maybe it grew since your appointment last month. But, it’s in a weird spot that you don’t see all the time. Maybe it’s time for a visit to the dermatologist.

Skin is something we love. Skin cancer… eh, not so much. But then again, you probably don’t either, which is why you’ve come to your massage therapist’s blog, reading about sun exposure. I’m for SURE not a dermatologist, but your skin and I are on a first name basis. I want to be able to keep working on it for years to come.

What happens when you get a sunburn?

You go outside and spend an awesome day soaking up the sun. At the end of the day your skin is super itchy and red. You break out the aloe and try not to move much for the rest of the day. Let’s take a minute to deep dive into the science of how that burn happens.

When you step out into the sunlight, you’re immediately bombarded by UV radiation. This radiation causes mismatches in the curlicue of the DNA in the nucleus, which is kinda serious and can lead to skin cancer. As soon as this starts to happen, your skin kicks into gear and starts to redistribute melanin. Melanin is what creates the suntan that everyone loves to have. This is turn helps protect your DNA from further damage.

If you’re still outside and the the damage doesn’t stop ( if you’re fair skinned for example) you’ll get to experience the joy of the inflammatory response. This is the same kind of inflammation you would get if you sprained your ankle, only stretch that out all of our skin! Your blood vessels dilate to get more nutrients and infection fighting cells to your skin, making it red and warm to the touch. Itching and pain start coming into play as a warning signal from your body that something’s wrong. You’ll probably feel thirsty and tired as your body works to repair the damage.

And then comes the fun stage. Peeling. Interesting fact, these skin cells weren’t killed by the UV radiation. When skin cells recognize that their DNA has been severely damaged, they deliberately die off rather than risk becoming cancerous. This planned cell death is called, apoptosis, which is why you see massive number of skin cells coming off all at once.

And just to be clear: All sunburns no matter how mild contain skin cancer. It’s only because our skin kills itself off before the cells go haywire that we see as little cancer as we do. That being said, 5.4 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. 1 in 5 American will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70.

So how can you protect your skin?

This unfortunately is a big can of worms that we will open over the next couple of blogs. Yes, genetics play a part in the health of your skin. And then you also have the obvious factors of avoiding tanning beds,using a healthy sunscreen and even your diet plays a part in how easily you burn.

Caring for your skin isn’t about vanity

Most of the time when we think of body organs, our minds go to the stuff on the inside. You know… heart, lungs liver etc. Your skin is the largest organ you have. It’s just as important as the stuff on the inside that your skin protects. If you exercise for your heart and quit smoking for your lungs, then preventing sunburns is just as important

Massage therapist love skin and work with it every single day and appreciate the hard work it does to keep your insides in and the outside out. It keeps you cool, keeps infections out and repairs itself at a remarkable rate. So take care of it!

And maybe bring it in for a massage.