A Deeper Dive Into How the Sun Affects Your Skin

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It should come as no surprise that too much sun exposure can damage your body’s shield and lead to skin cancer, but do you know how the sun affects your skin? First, it’s important to understand the breakdown of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. The sun emits both UVA and UVB rays, however, there’s a significant distinction between the two. That awful sunburn you got is the result of UVB rays, which can worsen in high altitudes. On the other hand, UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, are the leading cause of premature aging, and are 40 times more common than UVB rays. Yikes.

It’s important to be aware of the various signs the sun is damaging your skin. Here are a few ways the sun can disrupt the health of your skin and how to protect it!

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Premature Aging

Did you know that 80 percent of aging is attributed to sun damage? When UVA rays penetrate your skin, they begin to break down the key structural protein of the skin, called collagen. This breakdown leads to loss of elasticity, wrinkles, and in some cases, a leather-like texture of the skin.

Worsened Acne

Have you ever heard the skin-care myth that a suntan is the ultimate cure for acne? While sun exposure can temporarily “clear” up acne as it dries your skin out, the keyword here is temporarily. It’s understandable why people believe this even though it can be detrimental to the health of your skin. The sun zaps away oil, causing your skin to overcompensate oil production, which can lead to future worsened acne. A 2003 study concluded that your oil-producing cells increase between 120% and 140% in the days following sun exposure. No thank you!

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There are a few ways sun exposure can cause changes in skin pigmentation. Liver spots are discolored areas that may get darker and larger as you age. If your skin is damaged at a young age, these spots may show up earlier in life and continue to worsen over time. You may also experience skin discoloration if you have melasma. Melasma occurs when melanocytes, the cells that create pigment, rapidly increase causing blotchy, dark patches. It’s often the effect of hormone fluctuations and/or UV exposure.

Spider Veins

Spider veins are small, damaged veins that typically don’t hurt or cause harm, but many dislike them for cosmetic reasons. Ultraviolet light can cause blood vessels to break, particularly on the face, leading to these spider veins. Oftentimes, they don’t go away on their own and may require laser treatment to reverse the condition.

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Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE) affects roughly 10 to 20 percent of Americans. PMLE occurs when there is an allergic reaction to UV rays, creating an itchy rash and possibly blisters. For those experiencing PMLE, a flare-up typically occurs between spring and summer since this is a period of increased sun exposure.

What You Can Do…

Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside. Set aside enough time to allow sunscreen to fully bind to your skin. This will ensure you’re completely protected before stepping outside.

Don’t let the SPF level confuse you. Common SPF levels include 15, 30, and 50. Oftentimes, people believe if they use a higher level, they can last all day in the sun without getting harmed. However, SPF levels vary only slightly in protection, as SPF 15 filters about 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 at 97%, and SPF 50 at 98%.

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Reapply every 2 hours and repeat after getting wet or sweating. Reapplying sunscreen is just as important as applying it in the first place. If you don’t properly keep up with sunscreen throughout the day, you leave yourself at risk for sunburn and further sun damage.

Use retinol or AHAs at night to reverse signs of damage. If you’ve already experienced sun damage, this doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for you. There are many ways to reverse signs of sun damage as alpha-hydroxy acid (AHAs) treatments and skin products containing retinol help regenerate skin cells and boost collagen production.

For more information on UV Awareness:

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