Sun Damage

We all love the warm sun. The sun’s rays make us feel good, and in the short term, make us look good. But our love affair with the sun is not a two way street! Exposure to sun causes most of the wrinkles and age spots on our face. Believe it or not, a woman at the age of 40 who has consistently protected her skin from the sun will actually have the same skin condition as that of a 30-year-old woman.  Unprotected exposure to the sun will age  you faster then even smoking!

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We often associate a glowing complexion with good health, but skin color obtained from being in the sun—or in a tanning booth—actually accelerates the effects of aging and increases your risk for developing skin cancer.

Sun exposure causes most of the skin changes that we think of as a normal part of aging. Over time, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light damages the fibers in the skin called elastin. When these fibers breakdown, the skin begins to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to go back into place after stretching. The skin also bruises and tears more easily—taking longer to heal. So while sun damage to the skin may not be apparent when you’re young, it will definitely show later in life.

How does the sun change my skin?

Exposure to the sun causes:

  • Pre-cancerous (actinic keratosis) and cancerous (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma) skin lesions—caused by loss of the skin’s immune function
  • Benign tumors
  • Fine and coarse wrinkles
  • Freckles
  • Discolored areas of the skin, called hyper pigmentation;
  • Sallowness—a yellow discoloration of the skin;
  • Telangiectasias—the dilation of small blood vessels under the skin;
  • Elastosis—the destruction of the elastic tissue causing lines and wrinkles.

What causes skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of all cancers in North America and the number of cases continues to rise. It is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. This rapid growth results in tumors, which are either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are less serious types and make up 95% of all skin cancers. Also referred to as non-melanoma skin cancers, they are highly curable when treated early. Melanoma, made up of abnormal skin pigment cells called melanocytes, is the most serious form of skin cancer and causes 75% of all skin cancer deaths. Left untreated, it can spread to other organs and is difficult to control.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the number one cause of skin cancer, but UV light from tanning beds is just as harmful. Exposure to sunlight during the winter months puts you at the same risk.

Cumulative sun exposure causes mainly basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, while episodes of severe sunburns, usually before age 18, can cause melanoma later in life. Other less common causes are repeated X-ray exposure, scars from burns or disease and occupational exposure to certain chemicals.

Who is at risk for skin cancer?

Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risk is greatest for people who have fair or freckled skin that burns easily, light eyes and blond or red hair. Darker skinned individuals are also susceptible to all types of skin cancer, although their risk is substantially lower.

Aside from complexion, other risk factors include having a family history or personal history of skin cancer, having an outdoor job and living in a sunny climate. A history of severe sunburns and an abundance of large and irregularly-shaped moles are risk factors unique to melanoma.

How can I help prevent skin cancer?

Nothing can completely undo sun damage, although the skin can sometimes repair itself. So, it’s never too late to begin protecting yourself from the sun. Your skin does change with age—for example, you sweat less and your skin can take longer to heal, but you can delay these changes by staying out of the sun. Follow these tips to help prevent skin cancer:

  • Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater 30 minutes before sun exposure and then every few hours thereafter.
  • Select cosmetic products and contact lenses that offer UV protection.
  • Wear sunglasses with total UV protection.
  • Avoid direct sun exposure as much as possible during peak UV radiation hours between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
  • Perform skin self-exams regularly to become familiar with existing growths and to notice any changes or new growths
  • Eighty percent of a person’s lifetime sun exposure is acquired before age 18. As a parent, be a good role model and foster skin cancer prevention habits in your child.

Suntan

Tanned skin may be revered as beautiful, but that golden color you see is the result of injury to the epidermis, the top layer of skin. Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays accelerates the effects of aging and increases your risk for developing skin cancer. To prevent sun damage, use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher when outdoors. If you have fair skin or burn easily, boost your SPF to 30 or higher.

Sunburn (First Degree Burn)

Sunburn is skin damage from the sun’s UV rays. Most sunburns result in redness, heat to the touch, and mild pain, affecting only the outer layer of skin (first degree burns). Sunburn usually appears within hours after sun exposure and may take several days to a few weeks to fade. Pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen, cold compresses, aloe, hydrocortisone, or moisturizing creams may help your sunburn

Sunburn (Second Degree Burn)

A second degree burn  damages deep skin layers and nerve endings and is usually more painful and takes longer to heal. It’s characterized by redness, swelling, and blistering. If blisters form, do not break them as they are a source of moisture and protection. Breaking the blisters may lead to infection. Consider seeing a doctor if you have a blistered sunburn, pain and discomfort.

Wrinkles

The sun’s rays make skin look old and wrinkled years before it should. More than 80% of the signs of skin aging in adults are the result of the tans they had as teens before the age of 25. That’s because over time, the sun’s ultraviolet light damages the fibers in the skin called elastin. When these fibers breakdown, the skin begins to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to go back into place after stretching.

Uneven Skin Tone

Too much sun also causes irregular coloring or pigmentation of the skin. Some areas of the skin appear darker, while others look lighter. The sun can also cause a permanent stretching of small Freckles

Flat, pigmented spots on the skin, freckles are usually found on sun-exposed areas of the body. They’re more noticeable in the summer, especially among fair-skinned people and those with light or red hair. Freckles pose no health risk. But some cancers in the earliest stages resemble a freckle. See a doctor if the size, shape, or color of a spot changes, or becomes painful. Blood vessels, giving your skin a reddish Melasma (Pregnancy Mask)

Melasma (or chloasma) is characterized by tan or brown patches on the cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin. Although usually called the “pregnancy mask,” men can also develop it. Melasma may go away after pregnancy. If it persists, melasma can be treated with prescription creams and over-the-counter products. Use a sunscreen at all times if you have melasma, as sunlight worsens the condition

Age Spots (Solar Lentigines)

These pesky brown or gray spots are not really caused by aging, though they do multiply as you get older. Age spots are the result of sun exposure, which is why they tend to appear on areas that get a lot of sun, such as the face, hands, and chest. Bleaching creams, acid peels, and light-based treatments may lessen their appearance. Age spots are harmless, but to rule out serious skin conditions such as melanoma, see a dermatologist for proper identification.

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