Sunburn is one of those pesky, sometimes incredibly painful, side effects of staying out in the sun too long, but until now, scientists have wondered what exactly the biological process of it is.
The Journal Sentinel reports that scientists discovered ultraviolet radiation from the sun breaks and tangles elements of a special RNA inside cells. In turn, the RNA prompts healthy cells nearby to inflame. This inflammatory response is aimed at removing the cells damaged by sun, and results in the sunburn reaction.
Understanding this process is huge for scientists, as it can pave the way toward treatment that blocks the inflammatory response. It can also help with medical conditions other than sunburns. The study’s principal investigator Richard L. Gallo, a professor of medicine at UC, San Diego School of Medicine stated, according to The Journal Sentinel, that:
“For example, diseases like psoriasis are treated by (ultraviolet) light, but a big side effect is that this treatment increases the risk of skin cancer. Our discovery suggests a way to get beneficial effects out of (ultraviolet) therapy without actually exposing our patients to the harmful (ultraviolet) light.”
Fox News reports that Gallo does not recommend blocking the pathway to inflammation for healthy people with no conditions like this, because it is an important process for the body to heal and rid itself of damaged cells. Gallo explained, “The inflammatory response is a normal part of our protection against the sun.” He went on to say that:
“We also believe the inflammatory process may clean up cells with genetic damage before they can become cancer. Of course, this process is imperfect and with more UV exposure, there is more chance of cells becoming cancerous.”