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How and Why Does the Sun Damage Skin Cells?

If you spend much time outdoors, you’ve probably heard that the sun can damage skin cells. “Sun damage has almost become a catchphrase,” says Dr. Adam Mamelak, dermatologist and skin cancer expert in Austin, Texas. “We apply it to skin care, anti-aging, cosmetics, even skin cancer risk.”

The truth is, sun damage is a real change that can be measured in the skin. “These changes can be seen under the microscope, within our DNA and quantified with other scientific techniques.” So what does sun damage really mean?

hand reaches for the sunSunburn Cells

To put it simply, ‘sunburn cells’ are skin cells which have received a high dose of UVB radiation that has damaged them to the point of undergoing apoptosis, A.K.A. cell death. If these damaged cells manage to escape this programmed cell death, then they become more prone to developing into cancer.

UV, Free Radicals and Cell Damage

Free radicals are natural by-products of our body’s regular metabolism, similar to the exhaust from a car. “Ultraviolet light can intensify production of free radicals in the body and skin,” says Dr. Miriam Hanson, dermatologist at Sanova Dermatology. The body can handle a background level of free radicals but if there are no available antioxidants and the level becomes excessive, damage can occur at a cellular level.

The danger comes from the fact that free radicals, with their odd, unpaired number of electrons, tend to react with important components of the cell, such as DNA and the cell membrane. By damaging these critical components of the cell, free radical generation in the skin could increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer.

What are UV Signature Mutations?

UV Signature Mutations are unique changes seen within a cell’s DNA that occur directly from ultraviolet light exposure. Because of how specific these changes are, they are used as markers for sun damage within skin cells.

Are They Found in Skin Cancer?

Yes. These UV Signature Mutations can be found in skin cancer and can be used by researchers as another tool to help them understand which genes are directly involved in the development of cutaneous malignancies.

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To learn more about free radicals and the damage the sun can cause to your skin, contact us today.