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Sunburn Study Could Lead to Better Pain Relief

September 3, 2013

Originally published July 18, 2011

If you’re traveling to the beach this summer, chances are you’ll pack a bottle of aloe vera and some ibuprofen in case of sunburn. While common, these remedies provide only minimal relief for red, swollen skin. However, new treatments could be on the horizon to take away the sting of sunburns.  

Researchers at Kings College London have identified a molecule that’s responsible for the pain associated with the skin’s inflammation after sunburn. The molecule, called CXCL5, brings inflammatory immune cells to the injured tissue in the skin that triggers pain and tenderness. Identifying that particular molecule could lead to more effective treatments for sunburn pain, along with other inflammatory conditions like arthritis. 

In a statement released by Kings College London, Professor Steve McMahon, a lead researcher on the project, said the “findings have shown for the first time the important role of this particular molecule in controlling pain from exposure to UVB irradiation. But this study isn't just about sunburn – we hope that we have identified a potential target which can be utilized to understand more about pain in other inflammatory conditions like arthritis and cystitis.” 

Researchers began by exposing a small patch of the volunteers’ skin to UVB rays. Once the skin reached its most tender point, small biopsies of the affected skin tissue were analyzed for hundreds of pain factors.   

The study is being published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, and was funded by the Wellcome Trust (as part of the London Pain Consortium), and the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).  

Skin cancer, caused by overexposure to the sun, is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., with most cases being an increasing number of people are developing a deadly form of skin cancer known as melanoma, the third most common form of skin cancer. About 193 people in Georgia die of melanoma every year. In 2009, an estimated 2,040 state residents were diagnosed with melanoma.  

Here’s what you can do to be safe in the sun:

  • Avoid sun exposure. Reduce exposure to the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when UV rays are strongest, and keep physical activities to a minimum during that time.  
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to cover the face and neck, and wear loose-fitting clothing to keep cool and to protect your skin from the sun.
  • Wear sunglasses that provide 100 percent UVA and UVB protection. Chronic exposure to the sun can cause cataracts, which left untreated, can lead to blindness.
  • Liberally apply sunscreen (at least SPF 15) 15 minutes before venturing outdoors and re-apply at least every two hours – sunscreen prevents skin cancer, the number one cancer affecting Californians and prevents premature aging. 
  • Check the UV Index: The UV Index provides important information to help you plan your outdoor activities in ways that prevent overexposure to the sun. Developed by the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), you can find the UV Index for your area online at: www.epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html.