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Sun Damaged Skin

Although light is necessary for life, some of this light carries so much energy that it actually has the capacity to damage your skin.
“Sun damage” describes the changes that occur in your skin in response to effect of the damaging sun rays. This damaging light is in the ultra-violet (UV) spectrum and is divided into 3 categories: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

UVC rays have the shortest wavelength (100 – 280 nm) in UV spectrum, and carry the highest energy. They kill germs, and are used commercially for their germicidal effects. They are usually filtered-out by Earth’s atmosphere, and do not reach us on the ground.
Next in the UV spectrum are UVB rays. They are of medium wavelength ( 280 – 315 nm), and reach the ground level.

UVA rays have the longest wavelength (315 – 400 nm) in UV range UVA, UVB, and UVC rays can all damage collagen fibers, thus accelerating aging of the skin. Both UVA and UVB destroy vitamin A in skin, which may cause further damage.

UVC and UVB rays carry more energy, and can damage DNA directly, while UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin and cause DNA damage indirectly by generating free radicals and reactive oxygen species which in turn damage DNA. Further, UVA is immunosuppressive for the entire body (accounting for a large part of the immunosuppressive effects of sunlight over-exposure).

Because UVA does not cause reddening of the skin (erythema), it is not measured in the usual types of SPF testing. There is no good clinical measurement for blockage of UVA radiation, but it is important for sunscreen to block both UVA and UVB. Some scientists blame the absence of UVA filters in sunscreen for the higher melanoma risk found for sunscreen users.

As mentioned above, “Sun damage” describes the changes that occur in your skin in response to effect of the damaging sun rays. These changes include:

  • Changes in texture: skin loses it’s elasticity as collagen and elastin fibers are destroyed by UV radiation. It becomes thinner, leathery, and more fragile.
  • Changes in color: skin tries to protect itself by producing additional pigment that would absorb some of the damaging rays and neutralize them. This pigment production is not always uniform, and often occurs in the form of sun spots, or brown spots and blotches of pigment.
  • New blood vessels form as a reaction to solar injury, resulting in spider veins and telangiectasiae.

Although it is almost impossible to completely prevent sun damage, there are preventative measures that you can undertake, as well as treatments.
Some simple measures you could take to prevent sun damage include:

  • Avoid sun-exposed areas. Look for shade. Particularly avoid mid-day sun (10am-4pm)
  • Wear hats, sun glasses, and loose clothing
  • Use a sunscreen with highest protective SPF rating. Choose a sunscreen that has a sun block in it rather than just a chemical sun screen. Sun block will usually contain molecules such as Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide, which are metal-containing molecules that physically block and reflect sunlight rather than just absorbing part of the spectrum.
  • Do not use indoor tanning.

The treatment of sun damage always starts with a careful assessment at our Richmond Clinic to determine the options most appropriate in your individual case. These options include medications as well as a range of cosmetic treatments.

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