Long term and repeated exposure to sunlight, especially ultraviolet light, can cause a variety of cosmetic and medical problems related to the skin, commonly referred to as sun damage. Sun damage can affect any area of the skin as a result of excessive exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Sun damage most commonly occurs on the face, hands and arms, and may lead to sun spots, age spots, rough skin and wrinkles. Years of sun exposure can also lead to premature aging and skin cancer. Some individuals may notice skin lesions that are a form of actinic keratosis, which is is a precancerous skin condition that develops from years of sun exposure.
The best treatment against sun damage is preventing it from occurring in the first place. It is important to wear sunscreen on a daily basis and avoid excessive exposure to the sun, especially during mid-day hours when the sun is strongest. Additional ways to prevent sun damage include:
- Always wear sun screen with an SPF of at least 15
- Wear a hat in the sun
- Wear long sleeves and long pants
- Avoid tanning beds and salons
Once sun damage has occurred, there are options available to cosmetically improve damage that has already been suffered. Injectable fillers such as collagen help to fill out lines and wrinkles to give the skin a fuller, smoother look and feel. Phototherapy can reduce the appearance of uneven pigmentation and laser treatments may also be effective for these conditions. Chemical peels and microdermabrasion soften and rejuvenate the skin by removing old and dead layers of skin cells. This helps to promote new growth and enhanced texture of the skin. resulting in a noticeable renewal of the skin.
Individuals that notice any suspicious growths or skin patches should immediately consult with a doctor, as early detection is extremely important in treating any forms of skin cancer that may have developed as a result of sun damage.
Who is Vulnerable to the Effects of Sun Damage?
Everyone is vulnerable to the effects of excessive or unprotected sun exposure. That said, there are factors that may make some people more susceptible than others to issues like sunburn. According to studies, the majority of sun exposure occurs during childhood (80 percent!). What is important about this is the fact that it is during childhood when our skin has less protection than it will in our teen and adult years. Children's skin has not fully developed its protective capacity, making it imperative that we apply sunscreen adequately to the children in our care.
If you're reading this, chances are you're noticing some of the signs of sun damage on your skin. This damage very likely occurred many years ago. It can be exacerbated by your sun exposure today, as well as several other factors. These include:
- You take a medication or supplement that makes your skin sensitive to UV light. This includes certain essential oils.
- You take medication or have a condition that suppresses your immune system.
- You have an autoimmune condition such as lupus.
- You spend a great deal of time outdoors.
- You live in a high altitude or tropical region.
- You have a light complexion and tend to burn before you tan.
What Happens if Sun Damage is Not Treated?
Untreated sun damage could become undiagnosed skin cancer. When you see signs of sun damage such as rough patches, dark spots, and leathery texture, there is more than one reason to schedule a visit with a board-certified dermatologist. Your consultation and examination will cover the cosmetic issues of sun damage as well as the potential for skin cancer. It is better to hear from your dermatologist that those spots are (currently) nothing to worry about in terms of your overall health than to put off a dermatologic exam until a spot looks suspicious.
Is Sun Damage Reversible?
The signs of sun damage can be corrected, and we have several ways to do that! Depending on the degree of cosmetic damage that has occurred, as well as your preferences, your doctor may recommend a light to medium chemical peel, which accelerates cellular turnover to assist your body in sloughing off unhealthy cells more quickly. Another option for sun damage correction is to undergo phototherapy or laser treatment. These modalities target the pigmentation that has clumped together to form spots.
How Soon After Getting Sun Damage Should You Contact a Doctor?
Rarely is it necessary to seek immediate medical attention for sun damage. In the case of a serious, blistering sunburn, care may be necessary if the burn is causing fever, chills, and nausea. When it comes to seeing a dermatologist about sun damage, we say that there is no time like the present! The vast majority of us have sun damage. It can take years for that DNA damage to show up in the form of sunspots and other cosmetic concerns. You don't need to wait to see sun damage to seek a consultation and examination. If you get a head start on treatments for sun damage, you may bypass the frustrating, sudden onset of symptoms altogether.
What Are Some At-Home Sun Damage Treatments?
The very first thing to do to address sun-damaged skin is to be diligent about wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen. Many moisturizers now contain sunscreen ingredients, making it easy to apply and go about your day. When spending time outdoors, take your sunscreen with you and reapply every few hours. Also wear hats that protect your facial skin and ears. The next step of sun damage treatment at home is to use appropriate products that are geared toward mitigating sunspots and other signs of too much UV exposure. Examples include vitamin C serums, retinol creams and products, and serums or moisturizers with an abundance of antioxidants. Florida Westcoast Skin and Cancer Center carries a wide variety of clinical skincare products. We can help you determine which are best suited to your dermatologic needs.