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.
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.
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:
- Stay out of the sun when it’s at its strongest. Avoid the sun as much as possible during the middle of the day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Wear sunscreen every day. Don’t just put it on when you’re at the beach or sitting by the pool. Make daily sunscreen application (with an SPF of 30 or higher) part of your morning routine, and do it year-round, even when its cloudy or cool outside.
- Cover up. Covering skin with clothing can provide an added layer of protection. A wide-brimmed hat can protect your face, ears, and neck, which are especially vulnerable to the sun. Sunglasses that block UV light help protect eyes and the sensitive skin around them.
"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."
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