It’s that time of year again. Picnics, trips to the beach, BBQs, and—sun damage. Sun damage can occur all year, especially in sunny Southern states, but it’s more likely to happen when everyone is outside enjoying the summer weather.
Sun damage can happen quickly, even if you only get a little pink when you’re outdoors. Over time, that exposure can really add up to some serious symptoms of sun damage. While protecting your skin is your best option, you’re not out of luck when it comes to treating and reversing sun damage symptoms. Let’s take a look at how the sun affects your skin—and what you can do about it.
How the Sun Harms Your Skin
Being outside is good for us—at least for our vitamin D levels and mood. But when it comes to our skin, the sun can be harmful or even deadly. The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) rays, which break down collagen fibers and cause the skin to produce more melanin (the brown pigment in the skin).
Melanin is what makes the skin look tanned and bronzed, but it’s also the source of brown spots or age spots and can lead to skin cancer. The tricky thing about melanin is that it’s often not visible right away. Dark pigmentation can lurk below the surface until it shows up as visible age spots, or worse, precancerous lesions.
Recently, a photographer showed how much sun damage is lurking beneath the skin of everyday people with a UV photography project and the results are shocking. Dermatologists use this technology to detect areas that may be more susceptible to skin cancer but most people aren’t used to seeing the dramatic sun damage that’s hiding beneath the surface of their skin, just waiting to cause problems.
The Sun and Symptoms of Aging
Our own individual rate of aging varies depending on a lot of factors. Genetics, diet, lifestyle habits, and even air quality affect how quickly we notice signs of aging and which symptoms of aging affect us the most. But the biggest factor in how we age? UV rays from the sun or tanning beds.
The symptoms of sun damage and aging are nearly one and the same, simply because UV rays negatively affect the skin’s support systems that keep it looking youthful. Some signs of premature aging that can occur from spending too much time in the sun include:
- Uneven pigmentation, such as “sunspots,” “brown spots,” “age spots,” or “liver spots”
- A tough, “leathery” appearance
- Sagging skin
- Spider veins
- Ongoing redness
Any combination of these symptoms can make you look much older than you really are. Skin cancer aside, it pays to protect your skin from the sun, even if it means you can’t enjoy that sun-kissed glow. Your skin might look better now but will pay for that tan later.
But What If I Don’t Burn? The Truth about Tanning
By this point, you probably know that you shouldn’t be tanning, either in the sun or in a tanning bed. But some people think that if they don’t get a sunburn, they’re not in danger from sun exposure. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Tanning is almost as harmful over time as getting repeated sunburns.
Worst case, tanning could lead to potentially deadly melanoma. Unprotected UV exposure greatly increases your risk of skin cancer over time. Although you might not burn when you tan, your skin still absorbs harmful rays and increases not only your cancer risk but also your skin’s rate of aging.
People who tan regularly (like those who have a tanning bed subscription!) will start to see symptoms of sun damage fairly quickly, some in as little as a year. The skin will eventually look leathery and wrinkled, and problems like sunspots and spider veins will emerge.
The best option is to skip the tanning bed and use spray tan products if you really must have that bronzed look!
Keeping Your Skin Young
Keeping your skin young means protecting it from harmful UV rays. It’s not realistic (and no fun!) to stay out of the sun all the time, especially in the sunnier states. However, you should make an effort to follow best practices for sun protection when you’re out and about.
A strong sunblock, applied regularly, is your best line of defense. Clothing, hats, and sunglasses, along with staying inside when the sun is at its peak each day, can also help.
Rejuvenation Options for Sun-Damaged Skin
Almost no one can prevent all sun damage, even with the most diligent sunblock application (although that’s no reason not to try your best!). However, there are many cosmetic treatments that can help treat, minimize, and even reverse the many symptoms of sun damage.
Medical-grade skin products can be a great place to start. These products can be effective for people who have only a minimal amount of sun damage, or for people who want to maintain their results after a professional treatment.
The next step up is a gentle chemical peel or laser treatment. These resurfacing procedures can help even out the skin’s pigment and refresh the skin for a youthful glow. IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) treatments can help resolve spider veins and other irregularities, while fillers can help treat deep folds and static wrinkles.
Talk to a Plastic Surgeon
No one’s skin behaves in exactly the same way. Only a board-certified plastic surgeon or cosmetic dermatologist can help you design a custom sun damage treatment plan that’s tailored to your skin’s specific needs.
Patients in the Austin area have access to one of Texas’s top facial plastic surgeons: Dr. Edward Buckingham. Dr. Buckingham has an in-depth understanding of facial aging and offers a range of effective minimally-invasive procedures to address the symptoms of sun damage. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Buckingham at Buckingham Center in Austin, TX, call 512.401.2500 today.