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Sunburn Is Not All That Bad

Update Date: Jul 08, 2012 11:35 PM EDT

After numerous reports and researches on the ill effects of skin getting sunburned, here is something quite contrary to the previous findings. Getting sunburned, might actually do some good, says a latest research.  

While studying the exact cause behind skin's reaction to sunburn, scientists have found that it is the result of RNA damage. This means that the redness and painful burns are actually triggered by the immune system in order to remove sun damaged cells.  

According to researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD),the latest research finding could possibly help find a way to block this inflammatory process which could lead to treatment of many medical conditions, including psoriasis.

"For example, diseases like psoriasis are treated by UV [ultraviolet] light, but a big side effect is that this treatment increases the risk of skin cancer," lead investigator Dr. Richard Gallo, a professor of medicine at UCSD and Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, said in a university news release according to Health Day.

"Our discovery suggests a way to get the beneficial effects of UV therapy without actually exposing our patients to the harmful UV light. Also, some people have excess sensitivity to UV light, patients with lupus, for example. We are exploring if we can help them by blocking the pathway we discovered," Gallo added.

While conducting the research on mice using human skin cells, scientists discovered that UVB radiations fracture and tangle elements of a special type of RNA that doesn't directly make proteins, known as non-coding micro-RNA.

Skin cells exposed to Sun radiations release this altered RNA and consequently, the surrounding unaffected cells trigger reactions such as the reddening of the skin in order to remove sun-damaged cells, say the authors.

"The inflammatory response is important to start the process of healing after cell death," explained Gallo. "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," he said in the news release.

However, the role played by gender, skin pigmentation and individual genetics in the response of the skin to sun radiations is still unclear.

"Genetics is closely linked to the ability to defend against UV damage and develop skin cancers," Gallo said. "We know in our mouse genetic models that specific genes will change how the mice get sunburn. Humans have similar genes, but it is not known if people have mutations in these genes that affect their sun response."

The study was published in the July 8 online edition of Nature Medicine.

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