The Effects of the Sun

Have you ever wondered why your hair gets lighter and your skin darker while in the sun?

sunlight affects

sunlight affects

By Hannah Escochea, Staff Writer

Have you ever wondered why your hair gets lighter and skin gets darker while in the sun? This happens because our hair is dead and our skin is alive. The sun bleaches and destroys the Melanin in our hair therefor giving us lighter hair. Our hair will stay that color until new hair comes replacing our dead hair. When the sun shines on our skin it also destroys the melanin but since our skin is alive unlike our hair, our skin reacts differently. Our skin responds to the suns damage by making more Melanin in our skin, making our skin appearance become darker.

There are special cells in our skin called melanocytes which makes two different types Melanin, Eumelanin, and Pheomelanin. Eumelanin has black or brown color while Pheomelanin has a yellowish-red color. The exact shade of our skin and hair color is determined by how much melanin of each kind we make. Melanin helps our skin and hair because it protects it by blocking out harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. The UV rays from the sun can damage our DNA and cause cancer. This is one reason why our skin darkens because we’re protecting ourselves from the harmful rays.  The skin darkening is a two-step process, the first step is our cells experience the “immediate pigment darkening” when our skin is exposed to the sun. This happens when our cells are exposed to the ultraviolet type B radiation or the UVB.  

This response is quick and easy; it happens over a period of minutes to days. You can’t see this happen with lighter skinned people, but it’s way more obvious with people who have a darker skin color. The slower response the skin makes to sunlight is called “delayed tanning”. Melanogenesis is another response to the sun that our skin makes; it happens when our skin is exposed to UVA radiation. Melanogenesis just means the cell is gathering up more Melanin pigments. Melanin pigment is much darker also, so that’s why our skin becomes dark when outside and is exposed to the sun.  

The sun is not directly causing more of the Melanin to get made, it’s the damage to the cell that the sun is doing to start the process. When the sun damages the skin cell, the cell releases a chemical alerting the body to make more Melanin.  Obviously, this process must come to a stop or everyone would get skin cancer, so the body stops the process with chemicals. So, we eventually turn lighter during the winter. Hair can’t get darker because hair is dead, so our hair must take everything without any protection.  

Lighter hair and darker skin is one sign of someone spending too much time in the sun, so try wearing sunscreen or products to protect your skin and hair from getting more damaged.