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Heymatt:

Does the temperature have any bearing on how much sunburn/sun damage a person receives? If I'm outside on a sunny, cloudless 60 degree day, won't I get as much of a tan as I would on a sunny, cloudless 85 degree day?

-- Gettin' Baked, University City

We took the elves down to the beach and made half of them sit on a giant block of ice. Grandma gathered up all the extension cords, and we plugged in a bunch of big old fans. We got their little teeth chattering like the bad valves in Pa Alice's car. We left 'em there for two, three hours. Meanwhile, the second group of elves lounged around on towels and made rude noises at chicks. When we gathered everybody up and got back home, we had an elf lineup and asked Ma Alice to pick out the cold experimental elves from the rude control group, and she was stumped. Both groups were equally fried. Temperature itself has nothing to do with sunburn. You can be freezing your butt off and still get a sunburn, of course.

A "burn" from the sun is actually a chemical reaction to skin-cell damage caused by the dreaded UV radiation, not the heat of the sun. Various enzymes and proteins respond to the damaged area by enlarging small blood vessels and marshalling inflammatory cells, causing redness, swelling, and pain. Do enough damage to your skin cells and they'll die and peel off. Damage the DNA from repeated overexposure to UV, and you end up with brown skin patches, wrinkles, and maybe cancer. And you definitely can do this while sitting on a giant block of ice with all of Grandma Alice's fans blowing on you.

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