Many people love the warm sun. The sun's rays make us feel good, and in the short term, make us look good. But our love affair isn't a two way street: Exposure to sun causes many of the wrinkles and age spots on our faces and is the number one cause of skin cancer.
In fact, sun exposure causes many of the skin changes that we think of as a normal part of aging. Over time, the sun's ultraviolet (UV) light damages the fibers in the skin called elastin. When these fibers break down, the skin begins to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to go back into place. The skin also bruises and tears more easily -- taking longer to heal. So while sun damage to the skin may not be apparent when you're young, it will definitely show later in life.
How Does the Sun Change Skin?
Exposure to the sun causes:
- Pre-cancerous (actinic keratosis) and cancerous (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma) skin lesions
- Benign tumors
- Fine and coarse wrinkles
- Discolored areas of the skin, called mottled pigmentation
- A yellow discoloration of the skin
- The dilation of small blood vessels under the skin
How Can I Protect Skin From the Sun?
Nothing can completely undo sun damage, although the skin can sometimes repair itself. So, it's never too late to begin protecting yourself from the sun. Follow these tips to help prevent sun-related skin problems:
- Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater at least 30 minutes before sun exposure and then at least every 2 hours thereafter, more if you are sweating or swimming
- Select cosmetic products and contact lenses that offer UV protection
- Wear sunglasses with total UV protection
- Wear wide-brimmed hats, long sleeved shirts, and pants
- Avoid direct sun exposure as much as possible during peak UV radiation hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Perform skin self-exams regularly to become familiar with existing growths and to notice any changes or new growths
- Eighty percent of a person's lifetime sun exposure is acquired before age 18. As a parent, be a good role model and foster skin cancer prevention habits in your child
- Avoid tanning beds