How Sunburns and Sun Tans Work

Portrait of woman with sunburn Ralf Nau/Stone/Getty Images
Beautiful Skin Image Gallery

drawing of a woman at the beach

There is something mysterious about the sun and skin. Why is it that if you go out on a bright summer day and spend an hour in the sun, you get a sunburn? You get a sunburn, that is, unless you happen to have taken the time to get a gradual tan. With a tan you can go out in the sun and nothing happens. Of course, that doesn't apply if you have "fair skin." The fair skinned among us never get a tan, so they always get sunburned. Unless of course they are wearing a sunscreen...

Learn More

Does this make sense? What exactly is a sunscreen? And what is a tan? What is the difference between a tan and a burn? Why can you spread a little blob of lotion on yourself and be protected, but if you forget you are miserable?

If you take the time to look at skin and sunlight in some detail, all of this actually does begin to make sense. You can learn a huge amount about your body in the process. So, that's what we'll do in this article. First, let's take a look at how skin works.