It’s easy to get a sunburn in the sudden burst of strong sunshine. I used to have to use sunscreen during summer training sessions and on holiday, otherwise I’d get a nice red and peeling skin in 1-2 hours. Fortunately, this is now a thing of the past, since I’ve dived into the biological effects of sunlight. I can be outside almost all day in summer without any sun protection! Me, a white-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, very non-black… What happens when you get sunburned and how can you prevent it? What should you do if it’s already happened? That’s what this 3-part article will be about!
Fitzpatrick scale, UV sensitivity, melanin
People are sensitive to the effects of UV in very different ways, depending on the pigmentation level of melanin (the collective name for the dark pigments found in living things), the inflammatory state of the skin, the redox potential and the hydration of the cells, skin.
To start with, it is worth getting to know the so-called Fitzpatrick scale, which shows more or less your ‘factory designed’ sun protection and sunburn levels you can expect according to your skin type. This system differentiates between 6 different skin types, which can be used to determine how well someone tolerates sunlight and UV. It may also give you an idea of who and how much sunlight needs. Generally speaking, darker skinned people need more sunlight and white northerners less, because they have adapted somewhat to less sunlight.
- Type I: always sunburned, no tan (pale skin, blond or red hair, blue-grey eyes, freckles)
- Type II: usually sunburned, slightly tanned (white skin, blond-reddish-brown hair, blue-green hazel eyes)
- Type III: sometimes slightly sunburned, medium tan (white-yellowish skin, any hair colour, usually brown eyes)
- Type IV: minimally sunburned, fair tan (light brown-black hair, brown eyes)
- Type V: burns very rarely, tans easily and spectacularly (naturally brown skin, dark eyes)
- Type VI: never tans, always tans (black skin, black eyes)
No final conclusions should be drawn from this categorisation, it is possible to adapt to sun exposure to a large extent if you gradually adjust the amount and take a few months. I would put myself in the group II (white skin, blue eyes, blonde hair) but I can tolerate the summer sun all day long, I don’t get sunburned because I’ve gotten used to it and I have been doing certain lifestyle tricks for a long time. All this without creams, with the help of practices that you can read in my books and articles. I can pick up a light tan, but I know I’ll never be a chocolate brown.
How do we get sunburn?
Melanin protects against excessive UV exposure, captures, reflects, breaks up light and protects the nucleus of keratinocytes from damage. Melanin also acts as an antioxidant, so its role goes far beyond a simple physical barrier. The difference in melanin levels between dark and fair skin can be 2-3 times greater and this can mean a multiple difference in sensitivity to UV light. In this respect, the average white person is ‘rightly’ sunburnt in summer.
But the good news is that armed with quantum biology information and tips, you can prepare for the coming seasons and stop fearing sunburn! At least I already manage this feat regularly with my white skin. When I’m out all day (10-12 hours in the sun!) I get a little redness at most, which turns brown the next day or just peels on my nose. When the skin is exposed to sunlight or UV, it stimulates α-MSH (alpha melanocyte stimulating hormone). α-MSH commands melanin to produce dark pigments.
Radiation at shorter wavelengths than visible light (ultraviolet, i.e. above violet and other shorter wavelengths) is no longer visible, but can still interact with the body. For example, too much UV causes sunburn. Similarly, radiation longer than the visible range (infrared and beyond) is not visible but interacts with us, such as infrared light, in the form of heat.
If you don’t tolerate the sun well, you get sunburned easily, it indicates that your cells are dehydrated, have a low redox potential and are deficient in some nutrients that absorb sunlight. Also, you have not yet adapted enough. By dehydrated, I don’t mean primarily low water consumption, but underproduction of water by the mitochondria. So here again we can go back to optimising mitochondrial function. Watching sunrise, reduction of blue light, circadian rhythm, seasonality… If sunburn has occurred, the skin will start inflammatory, restorative processes. The more sleep, mitochondrial function and DHA supply are in order, the better, because DHA omega-3 fatty acid is not only an excellent light-absorbing and mediating molecule, but also plays a role in reducing inflammatory processes.
Is sunburn bad for you?
A sensitive topic. The common belief about sunburn is that it is harmful. Too much UV light can even cause melanoma and skin cancer. If a lot of sun exposure does cause melanoma, why don’t the number of cases decrease (but actually increase) by living indoors with sunscreen and sunglasses? Pigmentation is largely hereditary, but susceptibility to cancer is much more related to mitochondrial heteroplasmy. Besides, vitamin D, which we can produce by sun exposure (UV-B light), is a very important line of defence against all types of cancer…
- Godar DE, Subramanian M, Merrill SJ. Cutaneous malignant melanoma incidences analyzed worldwide by sex, age, and skin type over personal Ultraviolet-B dose shows no role for sunburn but implies one for Vitamin D3. Dermatoendocrinol. 2016;9(1):e1267077. Published 2016 Dec 14. doi:10.1080/19381980.2016.1267077
- Lindqvist PG1. The Winding Path Towards an Inverse Relationship Between Sun Exposure and All-cause Mortality. Anticancer Res. 2018 Feb;38(2):1173-1178h
- Hoel DG, Berwick M, de Gruijl FR, Holick MF. The risks and benefits of sun exposure 2016. Dermatoendocrinol. 2016;8(1):e1248325. Published 2016 Oct 19. doi:10.1080/19381980.2016.1248325
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