Sun Damage: Understanding the Causes, Effects, Treatments, and Prevention
From air pollution and sun exposure to expression lines and stress, it’s inevitable that your skin will age. Aside from typical fine lines and wrinkles that everyone eventually accumulates, one of the most common tells that you’re getting on in years is the presence of age spots, the more common name for sun damage. In fact, the biggest contributor to premature aging comes from sun damaged skin.
At its most superficial, sun damage can leave you with dry, leathery-looking skin and uneven skin tone due to hyperpigmentation. At its worst, it can serve as a signal for more serious issues like skin cancer.
While it’s true there is little you can do to completely stop the signs of aging, there are precautions you can take to preserve and protect the integrity of your skin, especially when it comes to sun damage. But before you can understand how to treat or prevent sun damage, it’s important to understand how it happens in the first place.
What Causes Sun Damage?
Yes, it is true that exposure to sunlight produces vitamin D, which is essential for good bone health, but as in all things, moderation is key. What you need to watch out for are the ultraviolet, or UV, rays that can harm your skin due to overexposure.
Your epidermis, or the outermost layer of your skin, is made up of cells that produce melanin. Melanin gives our skin its color and also serves as a barrier against the negative effects of UV light. As we spend time in the sun, our epidermis begins to produce more melanin, which results in a tan for many people.
But when we spend too much time in the sun – yes, that’s a real thing – those UV rays penetrate our outer layers of skin and pass into deeper layers where they can harm or even destroy skin cells. Ultimately, too much exposure to UV light can cause our skin to burn, and this can lead to sun damage, premature aging, loss of elasticity, and even cancer.
Some common signs of sun damage:
- Freckles or moles
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Sallowness (think dull, lifeless looking skin)
- Benign tumors
- Pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesions
- Reduced elasticity
- Dilation of blood vessels
- Changes in skin texture
The more time we spend in the sun unprotected, the more compromised our skin becomes, and the more likely we are to experience signs of sun damage – which could become skin cancer. Sun damage doesn’t simply happen after one bad sunburn either – it’s accrued over your lifetime.
How Can I Treat Sun Damage?
When it comes to how you can treat any sun damage you might experience, it really comes down to addressing the signs of “photo-aging” it causes. Photo-aging manifests itself in the form of premature winkles and hyperpigmentation, or age spots. Unlike natural aging, photo-aging can result in dry skin, freckling, discoloration, deep wrinkles, and a leathery texture.
People too often turn to harsh, invasive treatments in the hopes of achieving immediate results. These treatments can include the use of topical retinoids, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and laser therapy. While these treatments can be effective, they can be especially harsh on skin that is already compromised.
At Source Vitál Apothecary, we take a natural, holistic approach to caring for sun damaged skin by focusing on extreme nourishment, careful exfoliation, critical hydration, and of course prevention. Nourishment helps to strengthen the skin to fight future damage, exfoliation is one of the most effective measures to improve the look of sun damage because it helps to removed dry, damaged cells while stimulating the skin’s natural regenerative efforts, and hydration keeps the skin looking plumped and glowing and provides an essential protective barrier.
As with any skin care routine, it’s unlikely you will experience drastic overnight results; however, by adhering to a consistent routine, you can expect an overall reduction in the appearance of sun damage over time.
How Can I Prevent Future Sun Damage?
The best way around sun damage is to avoid getting it in the first place. Most of the sun exposure we receive throughout our lifetime occurs during our day-to-day activities, not from sunbathing – though that can certainly cause its fair share. We recommend the following best practices for avoiding or mitigating your risk for sun damage:
1. Wear sunscreen every day
Always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 on your face and any skin that’s going to be exposed to the sun. Remember, it’s important to wear your sunscreen even on overcast days and during the winter months. Be sure to reapply every two hours if you’re going to be outside, as well as after sweating or getting wet.
2. Protect your eyes
The skin around our eyes is especially delicate, so don’t forget your sunglasses at home. Don’t be afraid to go for those wider frames either, as they provide more surface protection.
3. Don’t neglect your lips
Like the skin surrounding the eyes, the skin of our lips is thin and delicate. Keep a moisturizing lip balm on hand and reapply as needed. If it has added SPF, that’s even better!
4. Keep your head covered
Your neck, scalp, and ears are easy targets for the sun, and we often don’t notice the damage there until it’s too late. Protect these vulnerable areas by making sure you are putting sunscreen on skin that’s easily forgotten like your ears (or bald spots) and wearing a brimmed hat when outdoors, especially if you’re working in direct sunlight.
5. Time it right
UV rays are at their peak between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. If possible, limit your sun exposure during this 6-hour window.
Even though everyone will experience some level of sun damage throughout their lifetime, that doesn’t mean you can’t treat, protect, and preserve the skin you have! By committing to an effective skin care routine and educating ourselves on sun safety, you can reduce and prevent signs of sun damage and premature aging.