Why does the sun burn us?

an illustration of the sun smiling in the sky

The sun keeps our planet warm enough for living things to thrive. It gives us light so we can see. But it can also burn us. What causes these burns?


All About Energy

The sun sends lots of energy toward us all the time. There are a few different kinds of energy. There is infrared radiation, which is heat. There is visible light, which is what our eyes can see. There is also ultraviolet light. We can’t see ultraviolet with our eyes, but it’s there. And it can burn our skin.


an illustration of the sun saying, sorry about that.

Waves, Waves, Waves

Infrared radiation, visible light, and ultraviolet light are all types of waves in the electromagnetic spectrum. They’re all energy. But these energy waves aren’t all the same. Some have more energy than others.


a drawing of a squiggle with the label that says, a wave!

Infrared waves have less energy than visible light waves. Infrared waves are longer with more space between each high and low. Ultraviolet waves have more energy than visible light does. It’s this energy that can hurt us.


a diagram of three types of waves in th electromagnetic spectrum: ultraviolet light, visible light, and infrared light in decreasing order of energy.

Feel the Burn

If too much ultraviolet light hits our skin, over time it can hurt our skin cells. The cells can die, and our bodies react. The skin gets red, and it can hurt a lot.


Ultraviolet light comes from the sun, but it can also bounce off of other surfaces like water, snow, and concrete. That means that even if you’re under an umbrella, you can still get a sunburn. Ultraviolet light can also go through clouds, so you can get burned on an overcast day. No fair!


a cloud that says oops.

You can protect your skin by doing things that keep ultraviolet waves from reaching you. Clothing and hats are a great way to keep away those waves. Sunblock contains chemicals that can reflect or absorb the ultraviolet light, leaving your skin sunburn free.


an illustration of a hat and a bottle of sunscreen.

That way you can enjoy the other energy from the sun, visible light and infrared warmth.


an illustration of a beath with an umbrella, beach ball, and the sun shining in the sky.
article last updated September 15, 2015
More Less
More Less