There are a lot of important functions of the skin including protecting us from disease, injury and temperature changes. The skin comprises two main layers including the outer layer, also known as the epidermis. The epidermis contains cells which link tightly together to form a barrier. It also produces melanin which gives the skin its colour. Beneath the epidermis is the dermis. The dermis contains the roots of hairs, glands and the blood vessels as well as the nerves. Beneath this is a layer of fat.
What happens when skin is exposed to the sun?
When unprotected skin is exposed to the sun, it is
exposed to ultraviolet radiation. This causes
certain changes to take place in the structure of
the cells in the skin. Many years of exposure to UV
radiation causes the skin to become permanently
The changes caused by this damage are often described as premature ageing. In fact, it is completely different to normal ageing of the skin. In old age, skin which is not excessively exposed to the sun remains smooth and without any blemishes or spots. Though it is thinner than younger skin, there are not necessarily many wrinkles and skin can remain firm.
By contrast, skin which has been excessively exposed to the sun gets thicker, rougher and leathery. Over a period of 20 to 40 years, the skin can acquire many blotches and blemishes and in particular, fair skin can become yellowish. The skin can also become loose and covered with fine freckles and deep creases. These symptoms are especially common in skin which gets a lot of sun such as areas on the back of the neck, the face and the back of the hands.
Skin changes due to sun damage range in a wide spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, there is photodamage, which is characterised by a change in the colour of the skin as well as wrinkles or a difference in skin texture, particularly characterised by dry or rough skin.
The most severe sun damage will manifest itself as damaged skin cells which can in turn develop into skin cancer. The areas of the skin before they become cancerous are known as sunspots although they are medically referred to as solar keratoses. The most serious levels of damage due to the sun is when the skin develops skin cancer itself.