Skin Sun Damage
The sun is a life giving force, and sunlight is really beneficial for a lot of things, but only in moderation. While everyone loves the warmth of sunlight, sun exposure in excess can cause sun damage to the skin. While ‘tanning’ or mild darkening of skin is considered a good thing, exposing the skin for a long time in heavy sunlight without proper protection is actually harmful.
Why is sun damage serious?
The most common misconception is that sun damage is a skin deep phenomenon that affects the skin in various degrees. But the truth is that sun damage happens via UV radiation that alters the actual DNA of the skin cells that are responsible for maintaining the skin. The skin registers every minute of sun exposure, according to cosmetic dermatologists.
What happens on sun exposure?
- The UV (Ultraviolet) radiation causes burning and permanently changes the tone of the skin.
- The sun dries out areas of exposed skin (not protected by sunscreen or other proper protection creams).
- Sun damage depletes the skin’s supply of natural lubricating oils.
- Sun spots and wrinkles are also sun damage.
- Excessive tanning (both natural and artificial) accelerates aging effects and may lead to skin cancer.
- Sun exposure damages the skin fibre called as elastin, making skin sag, stretch and lose elastic ability.
- Sun damage means the skin bruises easily and takes longer to recover / heal.
What are the types of sun damage?
There are various types of sun damages, here are the most common ones.
- Sunburn – This is another name for the injury appearing on the skin that is exposed to UV radiation. If the sunburn is mild, it is characterised by a painful reddening of the skin, but severe cases can cause large blisters or vesicles (tiny fluid filled bumps). Sunburn is a sun damage that happens when the skin is exposed to the harmful UV radiation from the sun.
- Dry Skin – The skin is a complex organ that has a lot of moisture and essential oils to maintain the suppleness. Excessive sun exposure makes the skin gradually lose the moisture content. This will result in a dry flaky skin that also has premature wrinkles.
- Actinic Keratosis – When there is a small, scaly patch of sun damage skin in a pink, red, yellow or brownish tint, or a tiny bump that feels like sandpaper, it is called actinic keratosis. While other sun damage signs – including tanning or sunburns go away once the exposure is limited and basic creams are applied, actinic keratosis must be frozen and chemically treated or removed by a doctor. This type of sun damage develops after repeated long term exposure to UV light and is a warning sign to show the risk of skin cancer.
- Carcinoma – These are the cancerous skin lesions that occur due to decrease in the skin’s immune function. The various types of cancerous growths in the skin include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Benign tumours are also a possibility.
- Skin Discoloration – In a phenomenon called as mottled pigmentation, areas of the skin are discoloured. Sometimes, skin is prone to sallowness, a yellow discoloration of the skin.
- Collagen Damage – Collagen is a structural protein that is part of the skin. Sun damage may cause photoaging where the skin develops wrinkles and fine lines due to changes in the collagen present in the dermis, giving signs of premature aging, or actinic purpura where the UV radiation damages the structural collagen that supports the walls of the blood vessels and causes them to bleed beneath the skin surface. The collagen damage is extreme in cases of old age, and the ruptures in blood vessels are more likely. Telangiectasias is the dilation of small blood vessels under the skin while elastosis is the destruction of elastic and collagen tissue, causing fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin.
Diagnosis and treatment
Dermatologists confirm the presence of sun damage by a simple physical examination of the area. But a biopsy is done to check for skin cancer in case the actinic keratosis is observed. A small piece of the skin is removed and examined in a laboratory to check for any sign of malignancy. Sun damage can be reduced or cleared completely with proper treatment from a trained dermatologist. There are some permanent sun damages but most can be remedied by proper treatment methods.
Prevention of sun damage
There are only a few major rules for sun damage prevention.
- Applying sunscreen before sun exposure- Choosing one with a higher sun protection force (SPF) and one that is waterproof, effective against both types of UV rays (UV-A and UV-B). Sunscreens should be applied regularly after excessive sweating or washing off. Sun-block on the lips is also a must.
- Limit sun exposure during the worst time of the day – Limiting sun exposure during the sun’s peak hours, especially before and afternoon, is considered a good idea.
- Wear covering clothes – During summer months when the chances of sun exposure are high, people prefer smaller pieces of clothing to counter the heat. But when exposed to sun, it is better to wear long pants, and long sleeves to prevent sun damage to skin.
For more information: http://skindoctorindia.com/common-dermatologic-problems/skin-sun-damage/
Dr. Rinky Kapoor, MBBS, DDV, MD, from Mumbai, India is a renowned consultant dermatologist, dermato- surgeon expert, and skin laser expert. She co- founded The Esthetic Clinic in Mumbai, India and is a part of the Fortis Hospitals as a consultant dermatologist. She has won many accolades.