Ask Ms. Scientist: Beaches and Sun Burns

Where do beaches come from?

Sunny S.

June is here and it is summertime. When the weather gets warm and sunny, lots of people head to the beach, but where do beaches come from? A beach is really a geological formation caused by the erosion of rocks in the water. The waves, caused by the tide and the moon’s gravity, create small rock particles from coral reefs and underwater rocks. Sometimes even shell fragments can become mixed in with the rock particles. The particles and fragments are washed up to the shore and deposited there by the waves. These deposits of small rock particles are what we know as sandy beaches. However, make sure to take care of the beaches that you visit! Potential climate change could be causing beaches to disappear faster due to rising sea levels and the displacement of sand from increased storms and natural disasters.

 

What’s the difference between a sun tan and a sun burn?

Summer T.

Both a sun tan and a sun burn are responses by your skin to sunlight, but they completely differ in what happens next. When your skin burns, it turns red and starts peeling. This means several layers of your skin cells have been irreparably damaged by harmful ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. Over a long period of time, this can lead to lasting damage to your skin and can contribute to skin cancer. In contrast, you get a sun tan when special skin cells produce brown pigments in response to sunlight. The brown pigment can actually help protect your skin from UV rays. Believe it or not, the brown pigment converts harmful UV light into heat, preventing further skin damage. However, it’s still important to put on sunscreen when going outside during the summer, as you can burn and tan at the same time. Don’t worry about your sunscreen stopping you from getting that tan—sunscreen actually doesn’t affect your ability to tan at all!

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