Sun Damage and Protection

Sun Damage and Protection

The sun’s rays can damage and age our skin at any time of the year but in the summer months, as temperatures rise and the days lengthen, the need to protect your skin increases. In this month’s journal titled ‘Sun Damage and Protection’, we’re talking about sun damage, skin protection and repair.

Sun damage occurs when unprotected skin is exposed to the sun. The effects are cumulative over time with UV rays damaging the structure of our skin.

Understanding how the sun damages your skin is an important first step in learning how to protect your skin.

Sunlight consists predominantly of UVA and UVB rays.  While UVA and UVB rays differ in how they affect the skin, they are both harmful. Unprotected exposure to UVA and UVB damages the DNA in skin cells, producing genetic defects, or mutations, that can lead to skin cancer. These rays can also damage your eyes causing cataracts and eyelid cancers. Both types of rays contribute to signs of premature ageing, but this is especially due to UVA exposure. Signs of sun damage, also called photoaging, can begin as early as your twenties and include:

  • wrinkling
  • pigmentation changes such as age spots, liver spots and freckles
  • loss of skin tone including decreased elasticity
  • rough, uneven skin texture
  • broken capillaries, spider veins
  • redness and blotchiness

UVA accounts for up to 95 per cent of the UV radiation reaching the earth. UVA rays cause tanning and can also cause sunburn. UVA rays, while slightly less intense than UVB, penetrate your skin more deeply. Exposure causes genetic damage to cells on the innermost part of your top layer of skin, where most skin cancers occur. The skin tries to prevent further damage by darkening, resulting in a tan. Over time, UVA also can lead to premature ageing and skin cancer. These rays maintain the same level of strength during daylight hours throughout the year. This means that during a lifetime, we are all exposed to a high level of UVA rays. They can penetrate windows and cloud cover. UVA is also the most common type of light used in tanning beds.

UVB penetrates and damages the outermost layers of your skin. Overexposure causes suntan, sunburn and, in severe cases, blistering. UVB intensity fluctuates. The sun’s rays are strongest, and hence pose the highest risk, in late-morning to mid-afternoon, from spring to autumn or longer in tropical climates. UVB rays can damage your skin year-round, especially at high altitudes or if reflected on snow, ice or water. UVB rays can be filtered and do not penetrate glass.

UV radiation is one of the main factors in the development of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. These most often appear on sun-exposed areas of skin.  If discovered early enough, these common forms of skin cancer are almost always curable. UV exposure that leads to sunburn has also been proven to play a strong role in developing melanoma, the most dangerous of the three most common types of skin cancer.

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Check your skin regularly and seek advice if you notice changes to moles or any new, suspicious marks on your skin.

The degree of damage depends on the intensity of UV rays and the length of time your skin has been exposed without protection. If you live in a place with strong sun year-round, your exposure level and risk increase.

So how do you protect your skin from sun damage?

You’ve probably heard the advice ‘Slip, Slap Slop’ (slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat). This was updated to ‘Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek, Slide’ to reflect the importance of seeking shade and sliding on wraparound sunglasses to prevent sun damage. Pick the table on the terrace in the shade. Invest in a cotton wrap or shirt to protect your shoulders and back. Choose a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face.

We should be wearing sunscreen every day. Look for one that offers broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of 30 or higher. The SPF indicates protection against UVB rays only. A broad-spectrum sunscreen means that the sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

The key to sunscreen is to find the one that works for your skin, one that you will enjoy wearing every day. It should be part of your daily routine. Try to apply about fifteen minutes before going outdoors onto dry skin and reapply every two or three hours while you are outdoors, and again after swimming or sport.  You need about an ounce of sunscreen to cover your whole body, that’s about two tablespoons or a shot glass full.

My favourite sunscreens include: Elta MD UV Clear, Ultraviolette Screen Queen and La Roche Posay Anthelios Spray Mist.

It’s also good to have a travel version to hand for easy reapplications.

If you are starting to see the signs of sun damage on your skin and want to take action, there are a range of effective clinic-based treatments you can consider.

Fractional CO2 laser is an effective treatment for moderate to severe photoaging.

Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a customisable treatment that incorporates multiple wavelengths of light to visibly reduce the appearance of redness, thread veins, brown spots and dilated pores. IPL photo-rejuvenation also works to boost collagen and elastin production, diminishing fine lines and wrinkles and improving skin texture and tone.

Dermamelan is a chemical peel specifically formulated to improve pigmentation and is safe for use in all skin types. Signs of photoaging will also be improved, and radiance, texture and tone boosted.

Microneedling is an effective and natural way to amplify collagen and elastin levels, medical-grade microneedling works over time to boost skin tone, clarity, firmness and elasticity.

Neurotoxin treatment is bespoke and can be customised to soften dynamic wrinkles and create a gently lifting effect.

If you are concerned about sun-damaged skin, changes to moles or new suspicious marks, consult with a dermatologist about treatment options tailored specifically to your needs.