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Biological Chemistry

C&EN En Español

Infografias Periodicas: La química de cómo responde nuestra piel al sol

Andy Brunning, educador químico y bloguero de Compound Interest, ilustra la bioquímica que se encuentra detrás de los efectos de la luz solar en nuestra piel

by Andy Brunning, special to C&EN
July 18, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 26


The first column of the infographic explains that ultraviolet radiation is emitted by the sun along with visible light. Exposure to UV is what causes skin to tan and burn. UVC light is absorbed by the atmosphere, but longer-wavelength UVB and UVA light can penetrate the skin and damage DNA. This damage can ultimately lead to skin cancer, but some exposure to UV light is important for our skin to make vitamin D.

The second column of the infographic explains that when our skin is exposed to UV light, melanocytes, cells in the skin's epidermis, produce melanin. Melanin is a protective, polymeric pigment that absorbs UV radiation and dissipates it as heat. Increased melanin is what gives the appearance of darker skin in some people.

UV radiation can directly damage DNA. It causes reactions between DNA bases, and these reactions form products including pyrimidine dimers, the primary cause of skin cancer in humans. DNA can also be damaged indirectly by reactive oxygen species generated when excited melanin generates reactive oxygen species.

DNA-repair enzymes repair damaged DNA in cells by removing and correcting defective sections. But if cells become too damaged, they self-destruct and send a signal to immune cells. This signal causes increased blood flow and inflammation, giving the characteristic pain (and sometimes redness) of sunburn.

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Referencias usadas para crear esta infografía:

Clancy, Suzanne. “DNA Damage & Repair: Mechanisms for Maintaining DNA Integrity.” Nat. Educ. (2008).

De Gruijl, Frank R., Henk J. van Kranen, and Leon H. F. Mullenders. “UV-Induced DNA Damage, Repair, Mutations and Oncogenic Pathways in Skin Cancer.” J. Photochem. Photobiol., B (Oct. 2001). DOI: 10.1016/S1011-1344(01)00199-3.

Hopkins, Ryan. “How Ultraviolet Light Reacts in Cells.” SciBytes (blog). Feb. 14, 2015.

Soyer, H. Peter, and Katie Lee. “Explainer: What Happens to Your Skin When You Get Sunburnt?” Conversation, March 9, 2016.

Una colaboración entre C&EN y Andy Brunning, autor del blog de los famosos gráficos de Compound Interest (

Para ver todas otro articulos de C&EN en español, visita

La versión original (en inglés) del artículo está disponible aquí..



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