We all know sunburns hurt, but what really happens to the skin itself and why is sun exposure harmful. Is skin cancer the only negative consequence of sun exposure? Before we go back to Dr. Paller’s article, let’s explore what Ultra Violet Radiation is all about:
UVR or Ultra Violet Radiation is one component of the light spectrum coming to the earth from the sun. UVR is invisible to the naked eye because the wavelengths are shorter than visible light. There are three main categories of UVR - UVA, UVB, and UVC. Most UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer surrounding the earth before even hitting the skin. Although there are some technical differences between the two, both UVA and UVB contribute to premature skin aging, eye damage, skin cancers and also suppress the body’s ability to fight disease by reducing immunity aspects of skin. So, what happens to infants and toddlers when exposed to this radiation?
Dr. Amy Paller’s 2011 article explained that infant and toddler skin possesses “unique properties” that lead to an increase risk of three main conditions:
- Xerosis: When a child or adult gets dry hands, arms, legs, or dryness around the mouth on occasion, this is called xerosis. At times, the skin may feel itchy, become rough or scaly, itch and be painful. Sun exposure increases the frequency and severity of dry skin or xerosis.
- Atopic Dermatitis: Atopic dermatitis is also known as eczema. Although kiddos with eczema can have dry skin (xerosis), atopic dermatitis is characterized by an itchy rash in distinct patterns. It is especially frustrating for parents because it is challenging to treat. The rash typically begins in early infancy and almost always by 5 years. Sun exposure increases the frequency and severity of atopic dermatitis or eczema.
- UVR Damage: UVR (Ultra Violet Rays) damage is what happens to the actual cells that make up the multiple skin components in humans and increase the risk for developing skin cancer.