When it comes to the causes of skin damage and aging, sun exposure is one of the main culprits. If you spent a lot of time outdoors this summer, you may be wondering how you can repair your skin and prevent further sun damage. In this blog, dermatologist Dr. Juliet Gibson of Trinity Dermatology in Carrollton, Texas, has taken the time to answer some frequently asked questions about sun-damaged skin and provide answers to these questions as well as treatment recommendations.
How Much Sun is Too Much for Skin?
Every moment you spend outdoors can potentially damage your skin. But, the sun also provides your skin and body with the ability to produce Vitamin D. This vitamin is an essential part of the calcium absorption process. It ensures your body can build and maintain strong, healthy bone structures. While it’s not possible or even desirable to completely avoid sunlight, you should always protect yourself during sun exposure to limit damage to your skin and potentially adverse health risks.
What Happens to Skin with Too Much Sun Exposure?
Too much sun exposure can lead to numerous health and skin concerns, including:
- Skin cancer – Repeated or extensive exposure to the sun’s damaging rays will drastically increase your risk for skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form. The sun’s UV rays can extensively damage the cells and impede the cellular regeneration process, which is how cancer destroys healthy tissue.
- Immune health risks – UV exposure can weaken the immune system. If your immune system is busy repairing sun damage, your body is less prepared to mount a defense against other illnesses, as well as cancerous and pre-cancerous changes in the skin. UV exposure can also put you at risk for reactivation of certain infections such as cold sores.
- Cosmetic changes to the skin – Sun exposure can cause the development of freckles and moles and the increased appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Additionally, excessive sun exposure can lead to dehydration of the skin, which can take on a leathery, dried appearance.
How Does Artificial Sunlight from Tanning Beds Affect the Skin?
We recommend patients not expose themselves to the artificial UV rays from tanning beds. While many people mistakenly believe that small doses of this artificial sunlight will help them to develop a “base tan” that protects the skin from damage, this is simply not the case. Exposing your skin to damaging UV rays in this manner is an unnecessary risk to your skin’s health and appearance.
Can Dermatologists Correct Sun Damage?
Whenever possible, people should take care to protect themselves from damaging UV rays. If you do have visible signs of sun damage to the skin, your dermatologist may be able to help you undo the sins of summer with a range of cosmetic treatments. Some of the most common ways dermatologists reverse sun damage include:
When skin is damaged by sun rays, you can reclaim your healthy appearance by removing the damaged outer layer of skin. A chemical peel can deliver these results by using a chemical solution to expose healthy, new skin and more quickly shed damaged outer skin layers. The new skin below is often smoother and less wrinkled with a more even tone.
You may also hear microneedling referred to as collagen induction therapy. This treatment relies on tiny needles to create small micro-injuries that jump-start the skin’s healing and collagen production processes. This accelerates the turnover of damaged cells and the production of healthy skin cells. Microneedling has proven effective in the treatment of sun-damaged skin, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, and improving the appearance of scarred skin.
For more advanced sun-damaged skin, laser therapy can deliver an improved appearance. Laser light is passed into the sun-damaged skin where it is absorbed, causing an increase in adenosine triphosphate levels, collagen production, and new cell growth. Like other treatments for sun damage, laser light therapy relies on the production of new, healthy skin cells, but it can also target and remove discolorations for immediate improvement in appearance.
Can I Protect My Skin from Sun Damage?
You can and should! According to Dr. Gibson, “As is often the case, preventive care can make a huge difference for skin health. By protecting your skin from the sun’s rays, you can prevent skin cancer and damage to your appearance.” Some easy tips to ensure sun safety include:
Apply Sunscreen Daily
You should use a lightweight SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen every day on the face, hands, and other areas exposed to sunlight. If you plan to be outdoors for longer periods of time, a higher SPF may be beneficial. You should also make sure to thoroughly reapply sunscreen to exposed skin every two hours.
Take Breaks from Direct Sunlight
If you’re out in the sun for extended periods of time, take breaks by seeking shade under trees, umbrellas, or going inside periodically. This gives your skin some much-needed rest and recuperation time.
Wear Protective Clothing
In most cases, time spent in the sun means warmer weather, but it can still help to cover up. Wearing light layers, long sleeves, hats, scarves, and gloves can all provide an added layer of protection from the sun’s rays. Whenever possible choose sun-protective clothing with a UPF rating of 30 or higher.
Avoid Peak Sun Exposure Hours
From 10 am to 4 pm, the sun’s rays have the greatest effect. For this reason, staying indoors or limiting time outdoors during these hours can be beneficial to protect the skin.
How Often Should I Check for Skin Cancer?
We recommend performing skin cancer self-exams once a month. Additionally, you may want to consider seeking annual skin cancer evaluations with a dermatology professional. This is especially beneficial if you are often exposed to damaging UVA/B rays or have a family history of skin cancer. If you have a personal history of skin cancer, you should be checked by a dermatologist at least once a year.
Meet with U.S. Dermatology Partners
If you’re interested in learning more about how to erase the damaging effects of summer sun exposure, U.S. Dermatology Partners would love to hear from you. Simply complete our online form, and one of our local dermatology practices will be in touch soon. Our knowledgeable team members will be happy to answer your questions, schedule an annual skin cancer exam, or set up a consultation for cosmetic services.
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