Skip to main content UVA Health logo of UVA Health
Healthy Balance

Sunburns Fade — Sun Damage Lasts a Lifetime

sun damage skin

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays take a toll on your skin every time you are exposed. Sometimes you see sun damage — a sunburn is the most obvious sign. But even if you don’t get burned, without proper protection, sun damage is still happening. 

How Does the Sun Damage Skin? 

Often, you won’t see the impact of sun damage for years. It happens little by little over your lifetime and can affect your skin in many ways. 

Cell Damage

You may think a tan makes you look healthy, but if you look at skin under a microscope, you’ll actually see that the cells are damaged. This happens in the deepest layers of the skin.

Dryness & Loss of Elasticity

As skin becomes damaged from the sun, it gets dryer and may start to feel leathery. It may also become less elastic due to the destruction of collagen fibers. This can lead to wrinkles, sagging skin, and uneven skin texture.


Sun damage can cause areas of discoloration, such as freckles or brown areas called age, liver, or sun spots.


Not only does your skin redden shortly after you're exposed to the sun, leading to sunburn, but you may also see lingering effects, such as blotchiness, rosacea, or spider veins.


Your skin becomes weakened as it undergoes repeated sun exposure. This may cause it to bruise more easily.

Is It a Mole or Skin Cancer?

Get suspicious spots checked by a UVA Health dermatologist.

Premature Aging

Sun damage causes skin to age prematurely. This is often noticed with the development of fine lines and wrinkles. Aging of the skin may not correlate with your actual age, but depends on how much sun exposure your skin has had over the years.


Although there’s no guarantee that protecting your skin from the sun will stop you from getting skin cancer, unprotected sun exposure is the leading cause of precancerous and cancerous skin lesions.

What Are the Best Ways to Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage?

You don’t need to completely avoid the sun. In fact, recent studies have shown benefits of sun exposure on mental health, sleep cycles, bone strength, and your immune system. Just follow these tips for protecting your skin:

"If the skin's natural melanin pigment is comparable to the body's umbrella, wearing sunscreen can be likened to using that umbrella and wearing a raincoat," says UVA Health dermatologist Darren Guffey, MD. "No matter how good the umbrella, you'll end up less wet if you also wear a raincoat."

Copyright 2022 © Baldwin Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.  

Reply & View Comments Search Submit

Subscribe for Updates

Get stories & health tips every week