What is Sun Damage?
Too much sun exposure can considerably damage human skin. The heat from the sun causes dryness in unprotected areas of the skin decreasing its supply of natural lubricating oils. Additionally, the sun has ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can lead to burning and changes in the structure of the skin (long-term). There are several types of sun damage to the skin, and the treatment depends on the particular type.
What are the Common Types of Sun Damage?
- Dry Skin – When the skin is exposed to the sun for prolonged periods, it loses moisture and essential oils causing it to become visibly dry and flaky. This can also lead to premature skin aging signs like wrinkles even in younger people.
- Sunburn – This is the term used to describe injury of the skin that occurs after immediate exposure to UV radiation. Having mild sunburn causes a slightly painful reddening of the skin but in severe cases tiny vesicles or fluid-filled bumps can appear.
- Actinic keratosis – This is a very small bump that feels rough similar to sandpaper. It can also be a small, scaly patch of the skin that is damaged by the sun which appears pink, yellow, red or brownish. It is not like suntan markings or sunburns because it typically persists until treated through freezing, the use of chemicals or removal by a doctor. An actinic keratosis develops in particular areas of the skin that have been repeatedly exposed to the UV rays of the sun, but it can also be due to prolonged exposure. About 10 to 15% of cases later on turn into squamous cell skin cancers thus the need for immediate treatment.
- Long-term changes in the collagen of the skin – This includes photoaging or the premature aging of the skin due to sun exposure and actinic purpura or bleeding of delicate blood vessels underneath the surface of the skin. In photoaging, fine lines and wrinkles can appear due to changes in the structural protein of the skin (collagen) in the dermis. In actinic purpura, the structural collagen supporting the walls of the tiny blood vessels of the skin is damaged. This is usually a problem of older people because the blood vessels are more delicate and more likely to rupture from trauma.
Does Sun Damage Have Different Effects on Particular Skin Types?
The effects of sun damage on the skin and overall health of a person differ depending on the sun exposure level, age and skin type along with other factors. Generally, lighter skin tones are more delicate, so sun damage causes more damage on these skin types. Dry skin is also easier to damage because of the lack of hydration.
What Can Be Done to Treat Sun Damage?
Treating sun Damage Depends on the Particular Type
- Dry skin – The treatment is simply to use a good moisturizer that contains one or more of the following ingredients: urea, glycerine, sorbitol, lactic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids and pyroglutamic acid. For those with sunburned skin, take note that moisturizers with alpha-hydroxy or any other acid should be avoided. Also, remember to wash only using warm or cool water and use unscented soap with high-fat content or glycerine.
- Sunburn – For sunburn that is painful, apply cool compresses preferably a cool and wet cloth to the injured area of the skin. You can also mist it with sprays of cool water. If the discomfort persists, non-prescription medication for pain like ibuprofen or aspirin can be used. For extensive sunburn with blistering, consult your doctor for stronger anti-inflammatory medication.
- Actinic keratosis – There are several types of treatment depending on factors like the size, location and number of actinic keratosis. Some of the options include topical fluorouracil, imiquimod, diclofenac sodium gel, cryotherapy, chemical peels, laser resurfacing and shave excision.
- Photoaging and other conditions that involve collagen changes – Remember that it is not possible to reverse the effects of long-term sun damage but the appearance of the skin can be improved through the use of tretinoin or strong alpha-hydroxy acids that are applied directly to the skin. There are also other options like cryosurgery, laser resurfacing, chemical peels or dermabrasion. Botox injections and other procedures can also be used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and other skin aging signs.
Sun damage can lead to permanent cosmetic concern. Moreover, long-term sun damage can increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Thus, the fewer unprotected sun exposure a person has, the lesser the risk of skin cancer.
As rightly said by Skin Cancer Foundation Senior Vice President Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD- “Practicing sun protection is important year round, not just during the summer, When you adopt safe sun practices, you’ll go a long way toward preventing additional damage”. The best way to avoid sun damage is to use protection that includes hats, sunglasses, clothing and sunscreen if you cannot completely avoid sun exposure.