Why do humans get sunburns?

A hot sun fills the orange sky.

In the midst of a scorching hot summer, the WSU Insider dug into the Ask Dr. Universe archives for a recent piece answering a question from a curious 13-year-old about why we humans get sunburns.

The fictional feline Dr. Universe sat down with her friend Cynthia Cooper, a researcher at Washington State University, who knows a lot about how human cells respond to the sun.

Cooper explained that sunburns often strike when the body gets too much of a type of light, called ultraviolet light, from the Sun. As your body recognizes there is too much ultraviolet light, it turns on a defense system.

The immune system, which responds to invaders like viruses and other harmful things like ultraviolet light, kicks in. Some people might see their skin get red or blistered. They might feel itchy or painful. But not everyone experiences sunburn in quite the same way.

Visit the Ask Dr. Universe website for answers to more questions from curious elementary and middle school students.

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