Scientists have pinpointed what exactly it is that makes sunburns hurt so much.
Researchers from Duke University, Rockefeller University, the University of California, San Francisco, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, found that a molecule called TRPV4 is responsible for the pain caused by sunburns. TRPV4 is found in the skin's outer layer, called the epidermis.
"The results position TRPV4 as a new target for preventing and treating sunburn, and probably chronic sun damage including skin cancer or skin photo-aging, though more work must be done before TRPV4 inhibitors can become part of the sun defense arsenal, perhaps in new kinds of skin cream, or to treat chronic sun damage," study researcher Martin Steinhoff, M.D., Ph.D., who is a professor of dermatology and surgery at UCSF, said in a statement.
The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are based on research in human cells and in mice. For one part of the study, researchers took mice that were engineered to be missing TRPV4, as well as normal mice, and exposed their hindpaws to ultraviolet B radiation. The normal mice experienced blistering on their skin, while the engineered mice experienced little tissue damage.
And in another part of the study, researchers took a compound that blocked TRPV4 and dissolved it into a skin disinfectant, and then put that on the hindpaws of mice. When they exposed their hindpaws to ultraviolet rays, the mice seemed to be protected to some extent from the pain and damaging effects of sunburn.
While the results are promising, "I think we should be cautious because we want to see what inhibition of TRPV4 will do to other processes going on in the skin," study researcher Wolfgang Liedtke, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology and neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine, said in a statement. "Once these concerns will be addressed, we will need to adapt TRPV4 blockers to make them more suitable for topical application. I could imagine it being mixed with traditional sunblock to provide stronger protections against UVB exposure."
While a miracle sunburn-blocker using TRPV4 is still a ways away, there are some natural options for preventing that painful redness. Click through the slideshow to see: