Excess exposure to the sun over time can cause significant damage to the skin. This can include both natural sunlight and artificial tanning. In some cases, sun damage may also be referred to as photodamage, solar damage or photoaging. Exposure to UV light over time damages the DNA of the skin cells within the deepest layer of the skin known as the dermis. This damage can eventually become visible over time. In addition to common cosmetic concerns, sun damage increases the risk of skin cancer. For these reasons, it is important to both skin health and appearance to avoid excess sun exposure, wear SPF and remember protective clothing whenever possible.
Visible signs of sun damage can include sun spots or age spots. These are dark spots on the skin or uneven pigmentation. Other visible signs of aging and sun damage may include wrinkles, sagging or poor elasticity. Sun damage may also cause rough texture, redness or spider veins. The most common areas to see sun damage are the face, neck, chest or hands, though they may occur anywhere on the body which is frequently exposed to the sun.
In addition to signs of aging, sun damage may cause skin cancer. Signs of skin cancer vary depending on the type of cancer. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, typically appears as an abnormal or changing mole. Other types of skin cancer may appear similar to open sores or rough patches of skin. It is important to have routine skin examinations to check for signs of skin cancer, as early treatment is most successful.
Patients who have lighter skin tones are more likely to see cosmetic or health concerns due to sun damage. This is particularly true for those with fair skin with a tendency to burn when exposed to the sun. However, patients with any skin tone can face health concerns from sun damage. It is important to wear SPF regularly, know the signs of skin cancer and schedule routine appointments with a dermatology care provider.
Several treatment options are available for cosmetic signs of sun damage.
Irregular pigmentation or sun spots may be treated through options including laser treatments. These lasers target excess pigmentation in the skin, creating a smoother surface overall.
Treatments such as chemical peels and microneedling may also be beneficial for both the skin’s tone and texture. These treatments can be used to generate new collagen and increase skin cell turnover. This reduces unwanted pigmentation and creates a smoother, more elastic and more youthful appearance.
Skin cancer treatments can include excision, Mohs surgery or cryotherapy. These treatments remove cancerous or precancerous cells while sparing as much healthy tissue as possible.
Finally, medical-grade skincare products may be recommended to promote healthy skin. This can include SPF or products with anti-aging benefits.