As we begin to transition into Toronto’s nicer weather, we have to consider taking extra precaution from the damaging UV rays of the sun. Unprotected skin can become damaged in as little as 15 minutes of exposure to ultraviolet rays. Initially it shows up as red sunburned skin that turns into a suntan and then peels off, this is the way our body releases the damaged cells from our skin.
A sunburn is an evident sign of too much sun exposure, however sun damage isn’t always visible; with sun exposure, there are detrimental changes to our DNA under the surface of the skin that should concern us.
We should always be mindful of unprotected sun exposure throughout the year; these damaging effects can take years to become visible on the skin surface. The skin is our largest and most visible organ, its sole purpose is to protect us, therefore, I believe that its our duty to protect it.
Accordingly, I would like to take the time to explain some of the alterations our skin goes through from sun damage; it’s always better to prevent than to have to reverse these changes as it is long and time consuming to do so. In this three-part blog, I will discuss how to better protect, prevent and treat some of these changes. I will also answer some of the most frequently asked sun-related questions.
Changes to the structure of the skin
Prolonged sun exposure depletes our skin’s natural oils; the loss of this moisture makes our skin dry, flaky, leathery-looking and very dehydrated. The collagen and hyaluronic acid that our bodies naturally produce, which gives us our dewy, plump and radiant complexion, become depleted, the pores become more prominent, the skin losses its elasticity and begins to sag, premature wrinkles become apparent, smile lines and expression lines become deeper.
Frequent sun exposure will develop solar lentigos (brown spots) throughout our body that become larger and darker with prolonged sun exposure.
People who have a history of sunburns and those with fair skin, lighter hair and eyes are at a higher risk of developing actinic keratosis; these are red, scaly pre-cancerous lesions that can develop on the face, ears and the back of hands. They are premalignant lesions that can develop into what is called squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, two types of skin cancer.
People with lighter skins are also more prone to develop freckles; they look cute on little kids but as we get older and with years of sun exposure, they become darker and larger, making the complexion look dull and uneven.
For some people, the development of small white spots on the surface of the skin, called guttate hypomelanosis, a harmless skin disorder that does not pose any health risks, can have an impact on a person’s self esteem. These spots can typically start to show up on the legs, arms, back of the hands, neck and sometimes they can also appear on the face.
Hyperpigmentation and melasma can intensify and worsen with sun exposure, making the hyper pigmented skin more pronounced and harder to treat.
Sun exposure is also related to melanoma.
Changes to the capillaries result in the unwanted development of telangiectasia (tiny blood vessels) close to the surface of the skin. They can become very apparent on the sides of the nose, cheeks and chin, sometimes showing up in combination with diffuse redness on larger areas of the body, such as cheeks, chest, neck and back of the arms.
In older people, sun damage can lead to actinic purpura; the tiny blood vessels underneath the skin become very fragile and more prone to tearing, causing easy bruising and bleeding.
These are some of the common side-effects of sun damage that we constantly see and therefore it is very important to become more proactive with sun precaution this season and beyond. Because protecting the skin from the sun is often overlooked I wanted to take more time with this topic. On Part II of this blog, I will discuss some of the ways we can prevent and treat these side-effects.
Gabriela Madrid, Senior and Master Aesthetician, VISAGE Clinic