Sun is the #1 beauty burglar. We all know that by now, but you may not know that the sun is responsible for as much as 90% of skin aging. Over-exposure to the sun can cause premature skin aging, and it can cause skin cancer. How does that happen?
What is Photoaging?
As we grow older, the look and texture of our skin changes gradually. Repeated exposure to ultraviolet radiation speeds that process (sometimes dramatically). It can permanently damage the surface and underlying skin layers. The sun is the most common source of UV radiation, so we usually see the signs on our face and lips, neck and the backs of our hands. But photoaging can affect any part of the body exposed to UV light.
There are two types of ultraviolet radiation, or light (the “photo” in photoaging):
- UVB rays penetrate the outer layer of your skin. That damages skin cells, and over time that damage becomes visible. UVB rays can cause pre-cancers and skin cancers.
- UVA rays penetrate deeper, so they can also damage the elastin and collagen that normally keep your skin supple. Sometimes blood vessels are also damaged.
- How much, and how quickly, UV radiation affects you depends on your skin type. Typically light-skinned individuals who burn easily are at greatest risk, as are people who spend a lot of time outdoors. Even dark skin can become damaged, although the surface signs may be less visible.
- And don’t be fooled by the “aging” part – skin damage from sun exposure may become visible as early as your teens or twenties.
Sun screen is your best friend.
Photoaging is preventable. All you have to do is protect exposed skin from the sun. You can do that in several ways, but using sun screen is the most effective. Use it always – every time you go outdoors. It will work best if you:
- Make sure you use a “broad spectrum” product that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. Choose at least SPF 30, but be aware science has not proven very high SPF products (such as SPF 50) are really any more effective. If you will be swimming or sweating, choose a water-resistant product. There is no such thing as “waterproof” sun screen.
- Apply it liberally – experts recommend using about 1 oz. (about 2 tablespoons) for each application.
- Apply it about 20 minutes before you go outside.
- Re-apply sun screen every two hours.
- Use SPF 30 lip balm, too.
Women should use cosmetics and skin care products that incorporate SPF 30 broad spectrum sunscreen. Covering up helps, too -- a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants. Choose tightly-woven fabrics.
What if you’re already seeing the signs of photoaging?
Today, we not only know more about what causes skin damage, we have far more ways to treat it. Popular non-surgical procedures that help erase or reduce fine lines and wrinkles include:
- Botox or similar injections
- Dermal fillers
- Laser treatments
- Chemical peels
Many of these treatments can also reduce the appearance of age spots, which are caused by pigment changes from sun exposure.
There are also skin care products that can improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin. These include:
- Alpha Hydroxy Acid, Glycolic Acid and Vitamin A creams or serums increase exfoliation, allowing faster skin renewal. They also help repair damaged collagen.
- Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that help repair skin damage.
- Hydroquinone helps lighten age spots.
Should you see a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon?
Dermatologists are trained to diagnose and treat all types of skin conditions, and many offer non-invasive procedures to help reduce the visible signs of photoaging. Plastic and cosmetic surgeons can offer a comprehensive range of treatment options, from non-invasive and minimally invasive techniques to surgery. Before you choose any medical provider, you should consult with them personally to be sure you feel confident and comfortable.
And P.S. If you smoke, you are speeding up your skin’s aging process even more. Sun screen can’t protect you from that.