Skin-Deep and Deeper: How the Sun Damages Our Skin
If you’ve noticed, suntans seem to have fallen out of fashion. And that’s actually a good thing. Though it was a status symbol in past decades, it’s also a very clear sign that your skin’s been damaged by the sun. Even if you’ve never purposely gotten a tan or have always avoided the sun, you may still see the same brown marks and dark patches on your skin.
This is because sunlight can still cause damage even if you limit your exposure to short periods. Remember, the sun is hot whatever the season and its damage is cumulative. Just getting exposed to the sun for a couple of minutes every day is enough to cause some adverse effects on your skin.
But a tan is just one of the signs that exposure to the sun is inevitably taking its toll on your body. Here are three other signs of sun damage:
If you have fair skin and have tried to get a tan, you’ve probably already experienced this. Sunburns are the most obvious result of spending too much time out on a sunny day. This is the sun’s UV radiation telling you to either cover up or go back indoors.
But it’s best to keep in mind that not all people are affected by UV radiation the same way. You’ve probably noticed this if you’ve gone out to the beach with some of your friends: some people just get more prominent tan lines than others, while others sunburn almost immediately.
This is actually something you should be looking out for. Thanks to differing levels of melanin—which gives human skin, hair, and eyes their color—different skin colors are affected differently by UV radiation. Specifically, people with lighter skin burn easily and tan with difficulty, while people with darker skin are more protected from sunburns, getting a tan easily. Yet there’s more to sun exposure than just making your skin redder or darker than usual.
If you’re solely concerned about your looks, then photoaging might cause you greater concern. Put simply, extended and repeated sun exposure accelerates the skin’s aging process, making you look older than you really are.
The following can manifest on your skin due to photoaging: freckles, dry skin, deep wrinkling, and uneven pigmentation. The last one is specifically caused by an uneven increase in melanin production due to chronic radiation exposure. In worse cases, this is what causes age spots or “liver spots” to appear. But these are just the tip of the iceberg.
This is going to be the worst of all your concerns: chronic sun exposure can give you skin cancer. You can blame this on all that radiation causing so much damage that it affects your skin cells’ DNA, making your skin cells more vulnerable to cancer.
Skin cancer will develop mainly on parts of your body that are subjected the most to sunlight. Early signs will involve precancerous “sandpaper spots.” These appear as rough, scaly areas which vary in colorfrom white to pink, and eventually dark brown. Without proper medical attention, these could eventually become either basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or the lethal melanoma.
Protect Your Skin:
Some people champion exfoliation, skin bleaching, or even the use of anti-aging products to help beat back the effects of sun damage. But first, let’s just go back to basics: you need to protect yourself from direct sunlight. Dr. Neal Shultz of DermTV.com says it best: “Every minute you’re out in the sun, your body registers it.” But he also goes on about the possibility of reversing the damage by saying, “Whenever you start protecting yourself from the sun, you will stop the process of additional damage and start to reverse, to some extent, what you’ve already accumulated.”
Apply sunscreen everyday to slow down the process of sun-related skin damage. The FDA recommends using those labelled as broad spectrum, which protects you against both UVA and UVB rays—the two type of UV rays that cause skin damage. Use those with SPF values of 15 or higher and apply it at least 30 minutes before exposure. Remember to reapply every two hours if you have more business outdoors.
On top of that, you can also try adding more vegetables to your diet. As this article on BeautyMNL notes, bell peppers and even herbs like rosemary contain antioxidants. These then help protect your skin from the harsh effects of the sun.
The sun doesn’t just affect how your skin looks, but also your general well-being. Don’t skip out on just a few layers of sunscreen before you head out and remember to live a healthy lifestyle. You could be prolonging your life and helping you age slower as well!