My Laser Girl

Sun Damage

SUN DAMAGE

by on Jan.24, 2010, under Conditions, Sun Damage

Skin on the face may become damaged as a result of over-exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When this occurs, patches of skin may become discolored and rough in texture. 

Although most people love the warmth and light of the sun, too much sun exposure can significantly damage human skin. The sun’s heat dries out areas of unprotected skin and to deplete the skin’s supply of natural lubricating oils. In addition, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause burning and long-term changes in the skin’s structure. 

Over a lifetime, repeated episodes of sunburn and unprotected sun exposure can increase a person’s risk of malignant melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. As a rule, if you have fair skin and light eyes, you are at greater risk of sun-related skin damage and skin cancers. This is because your skin contains less of a brown pigment called melanin, which helps to protect the skin from the effects of UV radiation.

Symptoms

Sun-damaged skin shows the following symptoms:

  • Dry skin – the skin appears dry, flaky and slightly more wrinkled than skin on other parts of your body that have not been exposed to the sun. Dry skin is also one of the most common causes of itching.
  • Sunburn – Mild sunburn causes pain and redness on sun-exposed skin. In most cases, there are clear boundary lines where the skin has been protected from the sun by shirt sleeves, shorts, a bathing suit or other clothing. More severe cases of sunburn produce painful blisters, sometimes together with nausea and dizziness.
  • Actinic keratosis – An actinic keratosis appears as a persistent patch of scaly (peeling) skin that may have a jagged or even sharp surface and that has a pink, yellow, red or brownish tint. At first, an actinic keratosis is the size of a pimple. Rarely, an actinic keratosis may itch or be slightly tender.

Long-term changes in the skin’s collagen – Symptoms of collagen changes include fine lines, deeper wrinkles, a thickened skin texture and easy bruising on sun-exposed areas, especially the back of the hands and forearms.

Causes

Ninety percent of all skin cancers are caused by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and can be prevented by taking the proper precautions against sun damage. Fair-haired, pale-skinned people are the most vulnerable to sun damage but all skin types are at risk. It also accumulates, so that damage to the skin from one year is added to the damage done in previous years. This explains why the elderly are more prone to skin cancer. 

But how exactly does exposure to the sun accelerate skin ageing? Even low or moderate exposure to UV radiation damages collagen fibres, which are the primary structural protein in the skin. Such exposure also causes the accumulation of abnormal elastin, which is the protein that allows tissue to stretch. During sun damage, large amounts of enzymes called metalloproteinases are produced. The job of these enzymes is to remodel the sun-injured tissue by synthesizing and reforming collagen. But this process appears not to work the way it should and some of these enzymes actually degrade collagen. As a result, an uneven formation of disorganized collagen fibres develop, called solar scars. As this process is repeated, wrinkles appear. 

There are other factors that contribute to skin ageing, including:

  • cigarettes
  • pollution (particularly ozone)
  • rapid weight loss
  • tanning studios (there is no such thing as a “safe” tan; use of tanning beds is no safer than lying out in the sun, and dermatologist would love to see them outlawed)

When to seek medical advice

Call your primary care physician or a dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in skin problems) if you have any of the following problems:

  • Dry skin that doesn’t respond to nonprescription treatments
  • A severe case of blistering sunburn
  • A milder sunburn over a very large portion of your skin, especially if your painful skin makes it hard for you to sleep or to wear clothing
  • An abnormal scaly patch or nodule anywhere on your skin, or a skin ulcer that does not heal
  • Abnormal bleeding under the skin, or skin that bruises very easily
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