SUNBURN: GETTING THE BURN

Virtually all light-skinned people experience sunburn at some time in their lives from direct exposure to the sun or from its light reflected off water, snow or sand. For some the injury of sunburn will be a mildly painful reddening of the skin—a first-degree burn—that fades in a few days. For others it will be a fiery, excruciating, blistering, skin-peeling ordeal that lasts weeks. For a rare few, severe sunburn can require hospitalization.

Even when the pain of sunburn has faded, however, its cancer potential lingers. Sunburn appears to suppress the immune system and could increase susceptibility to disease. Repeated burns cause degenerative changes that speed up aging and produce wrinkled, leathery skin.
More importantly, chronic exposure to the sun causes damage to skin-cell DNA and can produce cancerous and precancerous skin lesions. And, a history of frequent sunburn increases the risk of melanoma, the most dangerous of these cancerous skin lesions.

Melanoma is the “most rapidly increasing malignancy of all malignancies,” says Vincent DeLeo, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at Columbia University’s St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Medical Center in New York City. “The ozone’s not doing it. It’s people’s search for the golden tan that’s causing it.”

Your body tries to protect itself against further sun exposure by tanning, or producing a pigment called melanin, which absorbs ultraviolet (UV) light. Generally, the more an area has been tanned, the more intensely it will tan after each new exposure. But tanned skin is not healthy skin; it’s already been damaged. Further tanning produces further damage. “There’s no free lunch and no safe tan,” says Dr. DeLeo.

People with darker skin color have more built-in protection against the sun because they have more efficient melanin-producing cells. But they can still suffer sunburn from prolonged exposure.

Sunburn and its symptoms can also be made worse by the interaction of UV light and certain kinds of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. These include many antibiotics, various anti-cancer compounds, diuretics, acne medications, heart medications and high blood pressure drugs. You should consult with a physician bout possible interactions between the sun and medications you’re taking.

*629\257\8*

Men’s Health-Erectile Dysfunction