Let’s Talk About All Things Sun Damage
If the sun’s rays can damage furniture over time, then our skin is certainly not immune. Sun damage to our skin is primarily caused by ultraviolet radiation (or UV) light. UV light comprises UVA (slightly longer) and UVB (slightly shorter). Different types of UV light can cause unique sun damage and are critical to our skin’s health and appearance. More extended UVA sunlight (320-400nm) has been shown to cause premature skin aging, likely due to penetration deep into the tissue. UVB is slightly shorter (290-320nm) and is often associated with sunburns and cell DNA damage. UV radiation can cause unwanted skin effects, including photodamage, wrinkles, and skin cancer.¹
There are several ways that sun damage can occur from UV light; likewise, several approaches prevent and manage the harsh effects the sun can inflict on our skin. Sun damage occurs through oxidative damage, which can be partially reversed with antioxidants in some skin care products. Another mechanism is melanogenesis, where pigment is produced by cells to protect themselves. Melanin can accumulate and cause unsightly pigmentary issues in the skin, which are difficult to treat and may require chemical peels and laser therapy. Malignant skin cancers and benign neoplasms occur when skin cells’ DNA mutate from UV radiation. Some forms of skin cancer are not caused by UV damage, but the vast majority are caused by excessive sun exposure. Other forms of sun damage can include dryness, reduced firmness, dullness, increased sagging, and wrinkles.
Is Sun Damage Unavoidable?
Over the course of our lives, sun damage is inevitable. Areas like our face, neck, and hands accumulate more UV radiation than other body areas usually protected by clothing. Despite some unavoidable exposure, there are simple habits to protect these chronically exposed areas. Some UV light is blocked by glass, meaning it cannot penetrate windows. Keeping a window between our skin and a sunny day is a simple trick to prevent exposure when driving or indoors. Clothing protects us too, and easy measures such as wearing a hat can help avoid exposure to the face and head. Seeking shade outdoors is another simple habit of reducing UV radiation. Of course, sunscreen is the surest way to protect our skin from damage, but it is not always practical to apply and reapply – so try to develop sun safety habits that become routine.
Steps to Take – Over-the-Counter and Professional Treatment
Avoiding sun damage may be the best way to protect our skin from unwanted cosmetic effects like pigmentary disorders. But realistically, no matter how careful we are, we will likely have dyschromia at some point. Hyperpigmentation is especially problematic for lighter skin types, while hypopigmentation is typically more noticeable in darker skin types. Whatever skin color, preventing and treating damage is essential for aesthetic and medical reasons.
Besides sunscreen, many over-the-counter products can contribute to healthy-looking skin. Consider a moisturizer containing ceramides, a key ingredient for skin barrier protection naturally present in our skin. Hyaluronic acid is another naturally occurring substance proven to provide significant benefits because of its unique capacity to retain water, preventing skin drying.² Retinol is available in many formulations in over-the-counter products and prescription-strength formulations. Retinol is a form of vitamin A that increases skin cell turnover, which can help clear acne, but it also offers some anti-aging benefits. Finally, other oral and topical options for improving skin health, such as collagen, Vitamin C, and caffeine, are being studied and explored.
When unwanted effects from sun damage are more severe, it’s time to turn to the professionals. Dermatologists can offer stronger prescription strengths of topical medications that can reverse some of the adverse effects of long-term sun damage and provide intensive therapy options such as lasers, chemical peels, and injectables. The possibilities dermatologists can suggest are far more targeted and personalized than what you can find in the drugstore. Treatments that rejuvenate the skin while revitalizing cells and restoring the skin layer by layer are only offered by professionals who truly understand all the treatment options and approaches.
The most significant danger of excess UV radiation is skin cancer. There are several types of skin cancer, with melanoma being the most deadly. The link between UV radiation and melanoma has long been recognized, and studies have shown that even a handful of bad sunburns have been shown to increase the risk of developing melanoma.³ Other forms of skin cancer also have been linked to excessive sun exposure, meaning that besides protecting your skin for cosmetic purposes, you are also protecting yourself from potentially developing a malignancy.
Pigmentary disorders and dyschromia can result from increased melanin production due to excess UV exposure. Tanning used to be a fashionable look, but now it is increasingly recognized to be dangerous. Tanning beds still exist, but their popularity has plummeted. For those who still want tan skin, spray tans and creams are more affordable and accessible than ever.
Wrinkles develop after long-term UV radiation and may appear worse in those who have spent many years in the sun. Wrinkles can be challenging to treat, but with a combination of Botox and filler, even deep wrinkles are no match for a skilled cosmetic dermatologist. While these treatments are considered relatively safe, it is critical to go to a board-certified dermatologist since adverse effects can occur if proper injection techniques are disregarded. It might be tempting to go to a med spa or a salon for cosmetic injections, but a licensed professional is trained in managing side effects and the latest safety protocols.
Early Treatment and Prevention
A skin maintenance routine could be beneficial if you try to play catch-up with your skin and always seem to be one step behind. Yearly skin exams to check for skin cancer or other skin problems are a great way to catch problems early. Regular visits to a board-certified dermatologist who focuses on cosmetically sensitive areas such as the face and neck can recommend a schedule for preventative therapy such as topical, injectables, and light-based or Laser options. Many aesthetic and medical therapies shown to benefit our skin and delay aging are unavailable in the cosmetics aisle, the spa, or the mall.4
We look forward to seeing you in our office and encourage you to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced Atlanta dermatologists.
- Marrot, L., & Meunier, J. R. (2008). Skin DNA photodamage and its biological consequences. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 58(5), S139-S148.
- Papakonstantinou E, Roth M, Karakiulakis G. Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Jul 1;4(3):253-8. doi: 10.4161/derm.21923. PMID: 23467280; PMCID: PMC3583886.
- Wu S, Cho E, Li WQ, Weinstock MA, Han J, Qureshi AA. History of Severe Sunburn and Risk of Skin Cancer Among Women and Men in 2 Prospective Cohort Studies. Am J Epidemiol. 2016 May 1;183(9):824-33. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwv282. Epub 2016 Apr 3. PMID: 27045074; PMCID: PMC4851991.
- Ganceviciene R, Liakou AI, Theodoridis A, Makrantonaki E, Zouboulis CC. Skin anti-aging strategies. Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Jul 1;4(3):308-19. doi: 10.4161/derm.22804. PMID: 23467476; PMCID: PMC3583892.