Sun Damage

Did you know that sun damage goes beyond sunburn or peeling skin after a day at the beach? It's the effect of ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB rays) on your skin cells, even if it's cloudy or you're indoors or wearing sunscreen. This invisible process, also known as photo-ageing or 'dermatoheliosis' in academic circles (though you'll rarely come across that term), happens every time you're in the sun. Keep scrolling for answers to frequently asked questions about sun damage.

Long-term symptoms of UV light exposure, apart from the obvious red burn and peeling skin, are commonly associated with aging. Here are the most common ones:

Telangiectasia: colloquially known as thread veins or spider veins.
Solar lentigines: often called age spots.
Solar comedones: characterized by large, blocked pores.
Actinic keratoses: small patches of dry, rough, uneven skin.
Solar elastosis: a systemic thickening of the dermis, causing deep wrinkles and a leathery appearance.

Understanding these symptoms can help us comprehend the effects of excessive UV light exposure on our skin.

To prevent sun damage, the most effective method is to minimise sun exposure. I understand that staying completely away from the sun may not always be practical, but it remains the best way to fully protect yourself. Of course, it’s not realistic to expect you to avoid the sun entirely, but it’s worth keeping in mind that reducing unnecessary sun exposure is generally advisable.

One practical approach to minimise sun exposure is by covering up exposed skin with appropriate clothing, such as long-sleeved tops and wide-brimmed hats. Dark-coloured clothing tends to offer better protection.

If you can’t avoid the sun, sunscreen becomes your best ally. Many people believe that sunscreen is only necessary during vacations or beach trips, especially those living in regions like the UK, where sunshine can be scarce. However, the truth is that sunscreen should be a part of your daily routine. Even if you’re just stepping out for a short trip to the store on a cloudy day, any exposed skin can still be affected by harmful UVA and UVB rays, which contribute to the aging process. In the next section, we will discuss what to look for when choosing sunscreen.

To effectively prevent sun damage, there are several strategies you can consider. While completely avoiding the sun may be impractical, it’s worth mentioning that limiting your exposure is key. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Cover up: When you’re out in the sun, try to protect your skin by wearing long-sleeved tops and wide-brimmed hats. Opting for darker-coloured clothing can provide additional protection.

Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen: Sunscreen is crucial in blocking the sun’s harmful UV radiation. Look for a sunscreen that explicitly guards against both UVA and UVB rays or has the phrase “broad spectrum” on the label. UVA rays, in particular, contribute to photoaging and collagen damage, so it’s vital to ensure comprehensive protection.

Understand SPF: While SPF (sun protection factor) is a useful measure, it’s often misunderstood. SPF primarily measures protection from UVB radiation, disregarding a significant portion of the sun’s radiation. Therefore, it’s essential to consider more than just the SPF value. Aim for a minimum of SPF30, which filters out approximately 97% of UVB rays. Remember, the increase in protection is not directly proportional to the SPF value.

By following these strategies, you can mitigate the harmful effects of sun exposure while still enjoying the outdoors.

It is recommended to apply sunscreen every two hours, especially after showering or swimming. Even when indoors, keep in mind that UVA rays can penetrate through glass, so it’s important to apply sunscreen when you are inside as well.

UV radiation has significant effects on collagen and glycosaminoglycan levels in the skin. Once it occurs, you can’t simply “get rid” of it, unlike with acne. Nevertheless, you have the power to slow down systemic photo-ageing by implementing effective skincare and suitable treatments. In fact, with a bit of obsession, you might even be able to temporarily halt its progress. However, you can’t turn back the clock.

Definitely, laser treatment can effectively target many common symptoms of sun damage.

Your skin is constantly working to repair the damage caused by UV radiation. Therefore, effective skincare can greatly assist in this process. Let’s explore the different types of products that can benefit you the most.

Prioritise broad-spectrum UV protection: Applying a product with broad-spectrum UV protection should be your top priority. Start your day by applying it and don’t forget to reapply throughout the day. This will prevent further sun damage and shield your skin from future harm.

Harness the power of antioxidants: Antioxidants can help your skin defend itself against environmental damage. While they can’t replace sunscreen, they play a supportive role. Look for well-formulated vitamin C products that not only brighten the skin but also promote collagen production. Apply them after cleansing and before sunscreen.

Hydration is key: Hyaluronic acid is a fantastic moisturising molecule that can significantly improve your skin’s function and strengthen its barrier. Apply a hyaluronic acid serum or cream after your vitamin C or antioxidant, and before your sunscreen.

Embrace retinol: Retinol is a powerhouse ingredient with multiple benefits. It stimulates collagen production, reduces pigmentation, and revitalises dull skin. Incorporate retinol gradually into your skincare routine to allow your skin to acclimate to it.

Now, let’s talk about prescription skincare options:

Retinoic acid: If you’re looking for even more potent results, consult a dermatologist for a prescription of retinoic acid. It surpasses the effectiveness of retinol in renewing skin cells, minimising pigmentation, and reducing the appearance of sun-induced wrinkles. Follow your dermatologist’s guidance when using it.

Hydroquinone: This ingredient is the gold-standard for addressing pigmentation concerns and is available only by prescription. It can be combined with retinol to target pigmentation marks on the skin.