Sun Damage: Preventing & Treating

By: Michael Appleman, M.S.



What is Sun Damage?

Sun damage, also identified as photo damage, refers to how the sun alters the look and feel of the skin. Sun damage is a form of extrinsic aging, which is early aging that is caused by the surroundings. Extrinsic aging is collective, means that effects exacerbate with repeated, unprotected contact to the sun.

What Causes Sun Damage?

Sun damage is caused by frequent exposure to damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV is an undetectable form of radiation emitted by the sun. There are two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and are the major source of early aging and skin cancer. UVB rays primarily access the surface of the skin and are the key source of sunburns.

How Often Am I Exposed To Harmful UV Rays?

Whether you are walking to your car, driving to work, or simply sitting near a window, you are exposed to harmful UV rays. This type of daily contact is known as secondary UV exposure.

Secondary exposure occurs where you least expect it. It can occur in the shade, on cloudy days, even while you are indoors. It is likely that the usual individual is exposed to more than 10 hours of indoor UV rays every week. Add to that over 7 hours of outdoor UV rays a week and without a suitable shield, your weekly UV-radiation exposure might total nearly 20 hours. That's like spending the weekend at the beach without wearing sunscreen.

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Increasing The Sun's Damaging Effects

We are all vulnerable to the harmful effects of the sun. However, some people may be more at risk than others. People that have sustained burns are definitely in one of the top groups of individuals that are at higher risk. Below you will see a list of what else can put you in a high risk bracket.

    1. Where you live: If you live closer to the equator, the sun is directly overheard and the UV rays are stronger. Anyone who lives in the mountain regions, should look out. Studies suggest that there is roughly an 8% to 10% increase in UV intensity for each 1,000 feet of increased altitude.
   2. How Do You Live: Do you enjoy outdoor activities? Remember, sun damage accumulates over time-the more you are exposed, the more damaged your skin becomes. Apply sun protection every time you venture out.
   3. Your Medications: Certain medications, such as antibiotics, cause heightened sensitivity to the sun (photosensitivity. The results are sun rashes and sunburns. Ask your doctor if any of your medications can cause photosensitivity.
   4. Genetics: Are you fair skinned with light hair (red or blond) and freckles? If yes, you are at a high risk of developing sun damage and skin cancer. If you have a family history of skin cancer, take extra safety measures and use daily sun protection.
   5. Cosmetic Procedures: Cosmetic procedures can intensify your sensitivity to the sun. If you have undergone, or are considering microdermabraision, laser resurfacing, or a chemical peel, talk to your dermatologist about how to protect your skin.

Is Sun Damage Dangerous?

The answer is yes. In addition to premature aging of the skin, sun damage also increases your risk of skin cancer. The three common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Melanoma is the most dangerous of all types of skin cancer. This type of cancer is almost always curable when treated early. Melanoma usually starts in or near a mole or other dark spot on your skin. A normal mole is symmetrical in shape, has even coloration and border. An abnormal mole is asymmetrical in shape. It has shades of various colors. Those colors are brown, black, tan, white, blue, and red.

Sun Damage Prevention

   1. Protect Yourself: Protect yourself against daily sun damage by applying sun protection prior to every time you are going to be in direct or indirect contact with the sun. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a product with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. It should give broad-spectrum UVA and UVB treatment. Daily sun defense with a moisturizer is the best selection for defending against incidental UV exposure.


   Sun protectant ought to be applied to the face, ears, lips, and neck. Do not forget to protect your scalp if you have bald spots or your hair is thinning. Put the protectant on 20 minutes before you will be in UV contact. For extended or intentional exposure when you are working, exercising, or relaxing outdoors, sun protectant should be reapplied every 2 to 3 hours.
   2. Take Cover: In order to minimize sun exposure, you should search for shade on every possible occasion. Firmly woven, loose-fitting, full-length clothing, and a wide-brimmed hat can offer additional protection. To help avoid damage to your eyes, sunglasses that block 99% to 100% of UV rays should be worn.
   3. Avoid The Afternoon Sun: UV rays are at its strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. Avoid the sun during these hours. This will limit the effects of being in contact with harmful UV rays.
   4. Oppose The Temptation: Refuse to give in to the desire to tan outdoors in natural light or indoors under artificial UV light (sunlamps or sun beds). UV rays enter the inner layers of the skin. In reply, the body produces additional melanin. That causes the skin to be obviously darker. A tan is proof that UV has damaged some of the skin's cells. It has been verified that a tan is not healthy or safe.
   5. Get Expert Advice: To help ensure the potential of a healthy, beautiful skin, you should schedule regular appointments with your dermatologist. He/She can walk you through the steps of a monthly self-examination. Monthly self-examinations can help make sure that you discover any abnormal spots or changes to your skin and get proper medicine attention from your dermatologist. Your dermatologist can also offer education and information about skin care and explain the numerous sun damage prevention and all treatment options that are available to you.

Sun Damage Treatment

There is a range of treatment options available for sun damage. The treatments include prescription and non prescription medication. Cosmetic procedures are available for more serious sun damage. It is important that you speak with your dermatologist about your level of sun damage and treatment that will best suit your individual needs.

Non Prescriptive Treatments

Non prescriptive treatments are generally appropriate for almost no sun damage and are available at most drugstores.

Types of Non Prescriptive Medication Available

   1. Retinol: Retinol is pure Vitamin A. Vitamin A is a part of forming and maintaining healthy skin. Retinol encourages the production and elimination of skin cells and stimulates the renewal of keratinocytes, which is the cells that synthesize keratin. Keratin is also the protein that makes up the skin, hair, and nails. The effects of retinol include softer skin and reduced appearance of fine lines.
   2. Copper/Copper Peptides: Copper is a necessary trace metal in the body that is responsible for power and flexibility of the skin. Copper is added to specific antiaging formulations to enhance the skin's elasticity and strength.

   3. Alpha Hydroxin Acids (AHAs): AHAs removes dead skin cells from the upper layer of the skin. This increases creation of new skin cells and controls moisture levels. That results in a smoother, more healthy skin tone. AHAs are resulting from natural sources, such as fruit, milk and sugar cane.
   4. Antioxidants Vitamin C & E: Oxidative stress (primarily caused by sun exposure) damages the skin's support formation, the collagen matrix, Vitamin C and E, fights oxidative pressure and helps cells mend prior damage. When applied to the skin, antioxidants can lower the appearance of wrinkles and skin discoloration, and enhance skin vivacity.
   5. Soy: The effective components of soybeans are mild and efficient additions to numerous skin care preparations. The benefits of soy consist of smoothing and moisturizing the skin, evening overall skin tone, and delaying the look of hair regrowth.

Prescription Treatments

A prescription medication treatment is only available with a prescription from a dermatologist. The following prescription medications are available at most pharmacies.

   1. Tretinoin: Tretinoin is a derived from vitamin A that works at the cellular level. Medical studies imply that topical tretinoin increases collagen production to better the skin's inner arrangement. Tretinoin has been clinically confirmed to decrease fine lines and wrinkles, fade brown spots, and perfect overall skin texture.
   2. Hydroquinones: Hydroquinones are topical treatments, that are applied directly to the skin, which inhibit melanin production, the material that colors the skin. Hydroquinones helps remove overpigmented cells to enhance overall skin tone and clarity.

Cosmetic Procedures

Cosmetic procedures are more complex treatments for more serious sun damage that can only be done under the direct management of a skilled skin care professional.

   1. Microdermabrasion: During microdermabrasion, lightly scrapes away minute surface skin particles and stimulates the structure of new skin cells. This reduces the look of fine wrinkles and skin discoloration, improving skin texture, and ever-increasing skin sparkle. Multiple treatments are typically needed.
   2. Chemical Peels: A chemical solution which is applied to the face in order to remove the outer layer(s) of your skin. As the skin regenerates, it is noticeably smoother, softer, and less wrinkled.
   3.Laser Resurfacing: Surface imperfections (wrinkles, lines, and age spots) are removed using controlled laser light penetration. Through laser resurfacing, undesired skin tissue is vaporized layer by layer.
   4. Collagen and Fat Injections: Injections of collagen or fat taken from another place in the body are used to fill out wrinkles, deep creases, and acne scars. Improvement differ from patient to patient. Regular injections may be necessary.
   5. Botulinum Toxin Type A: Botulinum toxin injections block nerve impulses to facial muscles, by paralyzing the action of those muscles. Botulinum Toxic Type A is most often used to decrease deep wrinkles in the forehead and around the eyes.

Sun protection is an important part of all of our lives. Many of us have a more difficult time then others taking care of our skin. Some need to use prescription medication to help protect and improve our skin. Remember to discuss everything with your dermatologist.