Accumulative and excessive exposure to the sun’s rays will absolutely do the following to your skin: decrease its elasticity, make it blotchy, and cause the wrinkles and sags that make you appear older and more tired than you are. These are the most common indicators of sun damage. More pernicious sun damage may manifest itself as skin cancer and/or a reduced immunological response to certain diseases. By the time we are adults we show signs of sun damage caused by days spent playing for hours in the sun as a child. We can’t go back and erase the sunburns and suntans of childhood, but we can and should protect our skin from further damage.
What UVB and UVA rays have been doing to your skin
Sunlight produces ultraviolet radiation over a spectrum of light wavelengths. In terms of damaging your skin, light in the UVB and UVA wavelengths are the biggest culprits. UVA makes up the largest portion of sunlight to reach our skin and for many years has been considered “safe,” although scientific evidence exists which may challenge this assumption. UVB makes up a tiny fraction of the ultraviolet radiation attacking our skin and it is the most harmful to us. UVA and UVB penetrate the skin at different levels. UVA reaches deep into tissue structures, damaging them, and is the underlying cause of wrinkles, sagging and loss of skin elasticity. While UVB does not penetrate the skin at depth of UVA, it has the ability to photochemically interact with many factors in our skin to cause photoaging, melanomas and DNA damage. Sunburns and suntans are a reaction of the skin to the damage caused UVB rays.
The skin tone factor
People with fair complexions and very little natural pigmentation are at greater risk for sun damage than intrinsically darker skinned individuals. Sun damage, such as loss of elasticity and incidence of non-malignant and malignant skin melanomas, are higher for this skin tone type. However, all skin types can suffer the effects of sun damage accumulated from long-term exposure—the kind of exposure gained from spending day after day in the sun. While damage from accumulated sun exposure may take longer to become evident, it can be as serious as that incurred through sunburn or careless overexposure.
The sun tan myth
There are many people who believe that once you get a good suntan you are protected from the harmful effects of UV radiation. This is wrong. A suntan is the result of sun damage to your skin and it is the body’s way of trying to protect itself from further damage. A suntan can add 2-3 degrees of sun protection factor (SPF) to your skin. This is insufficient to protect your skin from premature aging and cancer risks.
Protecting and rejuvenating your sun damaged skin
Protecting your skin every day is the only way to avoid sun damage. Sun damage can result to varying degrees in winter and summer, cool weather and warm. The best way to protect your skin is to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater. The more time you spend in the sun and the more fair your skin tone, the higher the SPF you need. A UVA/UVB type sunscreen is the best choice. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to augment your sunscreen protection.
Erasing the evidence of sun damage to rejuvenate your skin is possible with cosmetic skin resurfacing techniques. Much of the blotchiness and discoloration as well as the fine lines and wrinkles from sun damage can be cosmetically reduced. Your skin will require great care after many of these procedures in order to maintain their effects and prevent further damage. Sun damage such as adverse immunological conditions and skin cancers can only be addressed by a planned course of action provided by a qualified physician.