The consequences to the skin of sun exposure are readily apparent if you compare the exposed skin of your face, hands or neck to the unexposed skin of your inner arm or buttock. Some experts estimate that 80% of facial ageing is attributable to sun exposure.
Sun damage can cause local areas of altered pigment resulting in brown spots ranging from freckles to sunspots.
Sun damage can also cause more generalised damage to pigment cells resulting in patchy areas of pigment loss (hypopigmentation) or of increased pigment (hyperpigmentation).
A combination of skin type and sun exposure can contribute to generalised redness of the face (rosacea) or neck (poikiloderma) as well as broken capillaries (telangiectasia).
Sun damage is one of the primary factors in premature ageing of the skin and the early development of lines, wrinkles and furrows.
The surface texture and appearance of the skin changes with sun damage and results in changes ranging from rough and dry skin through thickened areas of the skin (solar keratoses) to skin cancers. An exciting new advance is Photodynamic Therapy which can treat sun damaged skin before it becomes cancerous.
Medical Skin Checks
Sun Damage increases the risk of developing Skin Cancer, If you notice change in the colour, size or shape of an existing skin lesion or the development of a new spot you should have a Medical Skin Check.
What happens to the skin in the sun?
Each time your unprotected skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, it causes changes to take place in the structure of the cells and in what they do. Over years of exposure to UV radiation, the skin becomes permanently damaged. The damage worsens with more UV radiation exposure.
These changes are often described as “premature ageing”, but they are, in fact quite different to normal ageing in the skin. In old age, the skin that is not exposed to the sun is smooth, without spots or blemishes. It is a little thinner than younger skin, but there are relatively few wrinkles and it remains fairly firm.
Skin that has been exposed to the sun, on the other hand, becomes thickened, rough and leathery. Gradually, over 20 to 40 years, it acquires many blotches and blemishes and fair skin particularly may become yellowish. It becomes loose, and it is covered with fine wrinkles broken by a number of deep creases. These effects are seen especially on the skin that gets the most sun – the face, the back of the neck, the backs of the hands and the arms and neckline.
The changes to your skin from sun damage range in a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is what can be called photodamage where there may be a change in the colour (pigmentation and redness), contours (wrinkles) or texture (dry, roughened skin) of the skin.
More severe sun damage may then manifest as skin cells damaged to the extent they are more likely to develop into skin cancers. These precancerous areas of skin are commonly called sunspots but medically are termed solar keratoses. The most serious level of sun damage to the skin is when the skin develops cancerous growths i.e. skin cancers.