"Melanin is a natural sunscreen," Gary Chuang, an assistant professor of dermatology at Tufts University School of Medicine, told Live Science in a 2013 interview. However, continued exposure to UV radiation can overwhelm the body's defenses. When this happens, a toxic reaction occurs, resulting in sunburn. UV rays can damage the DNA in the body's cells. The body senses this destruction and floods the area with blood to help with the healing process. Painful inflammation occurs as well. Usually within half a day of overindulging in the sun, the characteristic red-lobster look of a sunburn begins to make itself known, and felt.
Sometimes the cells with DNA mutated by the sun's rays turn into problem cells that don't die but keep proliferating as cancers. "The UV light causes random damages in the DNA and DNA repair process such that cells acquire the ability to avoid dying," said Chuang.
The result is skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States. People who get sunburned repeatedly are at much higher risk. The risk for the deadliest form of skin cancer, called melanoma, doubles for someone who has received five or more sunburns, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Other UV sources
A number of artificial sources have been devised for producing UV radiation. According to the Health Physics Society, "Artificial sources include tanning booths, black lights, curing lamps, germicidal lamps, mercury vapor lamps, halogen lights, high-intensity discharge lamps, fluorescent and incandescent sources, and some types of lasers."