Sun exposure is a double-edged sword. We need the sun’s rays to trigger vitamin D production in our skin. But too much sun causes sunburn… which can lead to even worse problems down the line.
Two recent discoveries could spell an end to sunburn – especially the swelling and pain linked to this common summer complaint.
The first discovery came last year. A team led by the University of California uncovered the root cause of sunburn.
The “lobster look” results from your skin’s natural damage control mechanism.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) light damages a type of RNA in your skin cells. When this damaged RNA escapes affected cells, the surrounding cells begin a defensive process, resulting in the redness and painful swelling we call sunburn.1
Now a second study has shown how part of this process works… and how we may be able to block the pain – and even some of the damage – of sunburn.
The new study looked at mice and human cell cultures. Using genetically engineered mice, the researchers found a protein that’s common in our skin plays an important role in our reaction to UVB light.
The protein – called TRPV4 – acts like a gate in cell membranes. Normally, it allows a carefully balanced number of electrolytes – such as calcium and sodium – into your cells.
But UVB light causes TRPV4 to let in too much calcium. The calcium brings with it a pain-inducing chemical – called endothelin – which triggers TRPV4 to allow even more calcium into the cell.
This process causes cell damage, pain, and leads to the defensive condition we call sunburn.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Because the team also discovered a chemical that blocks TRPV4 from opening the floodgates.
When they applied this chemical to healthy mice, they didn’t sunburn like untreated mice. And experiments with cultured cells showed the chemical kept TRPV4 from allowing the initial flood of calcium ions that trigger sunburn’s chain of events.2
Although it’s promising, it’s too soon to put this discovery to the test. TRPV4 has many other jobs in your body. For example, it helps regulate the healthy development of bone, cartilage and nerve cells. So we have to be sure TRPV4 blockers won’t have unhealthy side effects.
And, of course, you should always use common sense when it comes to sun exposure. Even if this research leads to better sunblock products – or products that relieve sunburn after it happens – it probably won’t be a license to get unlimited sun exposure.
In the meantime, try to get a reasonable amount of daily sun exposure. About 20 minutes of summer sun on your face and arms daily is enough to provide plenty of vitamin D. Fair-skinned people should get less exposure. And you’ll probably need more sun if you have dark skin.
If you live south of Atlanta, you should take vitamin D in the form of nutritional supplements during the winter months. The sun’s rays aren’t strong enough to trigger vitamin D production during the northern winter.
Yours in continued good health,
Best Life Herbals Wellness Team
1 Bernard, J.J., et al, “Ultraviolet radiation damages self noncoding RNA and is detected by TLR3,” Nature Medicine. 2012; 18: 1286-1290.
2 Moore, C., et al, “UVB radiation generates sunburn pain and affects skin by activating epidermal TRPV4 ion channels and triggering endothelin-1 signaling,” PNAS. Aug 8, 2013; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1312933110.
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