What the Sun Does to Your Skin and What You Can Do About It

understanding sun damage

After a long winter, the first warm, sunny day of the year can feel amazing. But you don’t want to spend too much time out enjoying the sun’s warmth and light, as those UV rays can cause lasting damage to your skin. In fact, the sun’s rays are responsible for about 80 percent of all external skin aging!

So how can you enjoy the sun without letting it harm your skin? Here’s what you need to know about sun damage and how to protect yourself, especially after a laser treatment.

First Things First – How to Protect Your Skin From the Sun

When it comes to sun damage, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. In this case, we’re talking about an ounce of sunscreen, with an SPF of at least 30. Applying a full ounce of sunscreen all over your body before heading outside, even on cloudy or rainy days, will help to minimize some of the skin damage caused by UV rays.

Along with applying sunscreen first thing, it’s important to reapply it throughout the day, especially if you’re running around and working up a sweat.

You can also minimize damage from the sun by avoiding spending time outside between 10am and 2pm and by physically covering up your body. Long sleeves and long pants can provide some sun protection, as can dark glasses with UV protection and a hat with a wide brim.

Sun Damage: Increase in Pigment

People often look forward to the increase in pigment, or melanin, that’s associated with sun exposure. Getting a tan is often considered attractive and healthy.

In reality, your skin is producing extra pigment as a way to protect itself against sun damage. The more pigment produced, the harder it is for the sun’s UV rays to penetrate the skin.

The trouble is, sometimes that extra pigmentation doesn’t result in a glowy, even tan. It ends up causing hyperpigmentation, or dark spots on the face, or contribute to melasma, a grayish/brown discoloration of the skin.

Sun Damage: Break Down of Elastin and Collagen

Another way that the sun can damage your skin is by speeding up the breakdown of collagen and elastin, the two proteins that play a crucial role in skin’s overall firmness and texture. A loss of collagen and elastin is natural as you age. Spending a lot of time in the sun accelerates the process. As a result, you end up with lines and wrinkles, and in some cases, skin sagging, sooner than you’d like.

Sun Damage: Skin Dryness

The sun can also dry out your skin, leading to scaly, patchy areas. In some cases, the dryness is connected to sunburn, but sometimes it occurs on its own.

Sun Damage: Lesions and Tumors

As you might know, sun exposure is a leading cause of certain types of skin cancer, such as melanoma. The sun can also make you more likely to develop actinic keratoses. Actinic keratoses are scaly bumps or lesions that can be a range of colors, from pink to flesh-toned. They look like warts and can be itchy. Although many actinic keratoses aren’t a medical concern and clear up on their own, there is a small chance that lesions will develop into skin cancer.

What to Do About Sun Damage

What can you do about sun damage? It all depends on the degree and type of damage you’re dealing with. Taking steps to minimize sun exposure is a good place to start.

After that, you might consider one or more cosmetic treatments to help to reduce or reverse the signs of sun damage. For example, some dark spots can be treated with microdermabrasion or chemical peels. Lines and wrinkles caused by sun damage can be treated with fillers, laser resurfacing treatments or chemical peels. More advanced cases, such as when there is significant facial sagging, might best be treated with a surgical procedure, such as a facelift.

No matter how you decide to treat any damage caused by the sun, it’s equally important to commit to protecting your skin from the sun’s UV rays going forward. Otherwise, you’re just putting yourself at risk for developing additional damage further down the line.

About Dr. Ran Rubinstein

Dr. Ran Y. Rubinstein is a board-certified plastic surgeon. He offers patients a variety of surgical and non-surgical treatment options at his practice in New York, and can work with you to help you choose the cosmetic treatment that will best minimize the appearance of sun damage. Dr. Rubinstein offers patients a variety of procedures, from laser treatments to fillers to rhinoplasty, at Laser & Cosmetic Surgery Specialists, PC in Newburgh, New York.  To schedule a consultation with Dr. Rubinstein, call 845-863-1772 today.