Headed South to escape the cold? Stock up on extra sunscreen and sun-protective clothing. The latest research shows that damage caused by the sun's rays may continue to harm skin even after you go inside.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Yale University and published recently in the journal Science Daily, found that the DNA damage that causes sun burns and can lead to skin cancer may happen after a person's exposure to the sun has ended. 

How is that possible? Researchers say you can blame the pigment melanin. When the skin is bombarded with ultraviolet radiation from exposure to the sun, it responds by releasing melanin, which absorbs the UV rays to prevent DNA damage. Researchers used to think the sequence ended there. You either had enough melanin to absorb the UV rays or you didn't, and that explained why those with fairer skin were more susceptible to sunburns and skin cancer.

But what the Yale researchers found was that once the melanin absorbs all of those UV rays, it becomes super-charged, leading to a series of chemical reactions in the body that can also damage DNA — only this damage is occurring hours after the exposure to the sun has stopped.

Researchers think this study shows the need for a new kind of sunscreen, one that can block the sun's rays during sun exposure, and absorb radiation from melanin after exposure has ended. 

In the meantime, if you're headed to a sunny locale for spring break (lucky duck!) be sure to use sunscreen, wear protective clothing, and limit sun exposure whenever possible. 

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Sunlight continues to damage skin hours after exposure
The same pigment that absorbs the sun's rays may later damage skin when sun exposure has ended.