We all love a feel-good day in the sun, but what about the effects of sun exposure and ultraviolet rays on your skin? Don’t regret that sun tanning session, by being informed and proactive about your skin’s health to avoid skin cancer.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the effects of sun exposure and how to protect your youthful glow.
The most obvious and immediate effect of sun exposure on your skin is sunburn. This painful red irritation that you see after spending a long day in the sun's UVA and UVB rays without proper protection.
Sunburn can even be severe, leading to sun poisoning that causes symptoms like headache, fever, chills, nausea, dizziness, and dehydration. After a bad sunburn, your skin will need to repair itself by shedding the outermost layer. This type of skin peeling may make you feel like a reptile, but it’s a totally normal response to a sunburn.
It’s commonly believed that melanin-rich skin tones are safe from sunburn, but that’s totally not true! Deeper skin tones can absolutely get sunburnt. The chances of skin damage and cancer are higher since it is harder to see signs on the skin. That’s why SPF 30 and reapplication every 2 hours are key for ALL skin tones!
Another effect that sun exposure can have on your skin is hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation is when areas of skin appear darker than the normal skin tone. Hyperpigmentation is caused by an excess production of melanin -- the pigment that gives skin its color! When wounds like acne heal and create dark spots, they can worsen with sun exposure.
Sunlight triggers the production of melanin in order to actually protect the skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays -- almost like a natural sunscreen! When skin cells produce an abnormally high amount of melanin, it can create dark spots on the skin, otherwise known as hyperpigmentation.
Many people deal with dry skin in the winter due to low temperatures and harsh wind despite little to no sun exposure, so it might be hard to believe that sun exposure can cause dry skin as well! The sun essentially zaps the skin of its natural moisture and oils, totally drying it out - think of sun-drenched skin like a dried-out sponge. This can cause the skin to appear dull and flaky and feeling itchy.
Wrinkles and dry skin go hand-in-hand when it comes to sun exposure. The lack of moisture leaves unfilled divots in your skin. Not only that, but sun exposure can actually affect the chemical makeup of your skin as well -- and not in a good way. Sun exposure decreases the production of collagen and elastin in the skin, both of which are proteins that keep skin looking firm, elastic, and youthful. For this reason, high amounts of sun exposure can cause premature aging and make you look older than you really are!
Actinic keratosis refers to small dry, scaly, or crusty patches of skin caused by long-term sun exposure. It can appear as a single bump that looks almost like a pimple or as a patch of peeling skin that may have a pink, yellow, red, or even a brownish tint.
Actinic keratosis commonly appears on sun-exposed areas such as the face, lips, ears, scalp, shoulders, neck, hands, and forearms. Unlike the previous effects discussed, actinic keratosis could potentially be concerning as it is a common precursor to skin cancer. According to SkinCancer.org, the vast majority of squamous cell carcinomas start off as actinic keratosis. For this reason, if you think you have actinic keratosis, you should see your dermatologist for a full-body check for potentially cancerous areas.
Finally, the last and most dangerous effect of sun exposure on your skin is skin cancer. There are several different types of skin cancer, however, the most common are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Each comes with a different appearance and may occur in different areas of the body -- including areas that are not usually exposed to sunlight!
Despite what many people think, anyone can develop skin cancer, regardless of your natural skin tone. That being said, having fair skin is a risk factor for developing skin cancer since your body produces less melanin to be able to naturally protect your skin from damaging UV rays.
Other risk factors for skin cancer include a history of sunburns, excessive sun exposure, living in sunny or high-altitude climates, moles, a family history of skin cancer, a personal history of skin cancer, a weakened immune system, and exposure to radiation.
As you can see, anyone can get skin cancer, so no matter who you are or what your lifestyle is, you need to focus on preventing sun damage that can potentially lead to it.
How to Prevent Sun Damage
Obviously, none of these effects are desirable. The good news is that you can take steps now to prevent the effects of sun damage from happening in the future. It’s never too late to protect your skin and help prevent skin cancer!
Here are the steps you need to take to prevent sun damage from too much sun exposure:
- Wear at least broad-spectrum SPF 30 everyday. Even if it’s cloudy, if you’re inside, or going outside just for 15 minutes -- you need protection. Furthermore, applying once is not enough, so make sure to reapply at least every two hours. The broad-spectrum part helps protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays! Even if you're tanning, you'll still need to use some kind of SPF -- don't just lie on the beach with zero protection. SPF does stand for "sun protection factor" after all, so even SPF 15 is better than nothing!
- Avoid sun exposure during the strongest sun's rays -- generally between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Wear protective clothing when outside to cover commonly affected areas like the shoulders, arms, legs, and neck. Don’t forget to shield your face and eyes as well by using a hat and sunglasses -- your eyes (specifically your corneas) need the protection, too!
- Minimize your use of tanning beds and tanning sunlamps -- these still use UV radiation, meaning the risk of skin cancer and skin damage are still very real due to the UV exposure
How to Remedy Existing Sun Damage
One of the best things that you can use to support your skin after sunburn and sun damage is aloe vera. Aloe vera has incredible skin-soothing propertied to relieve discomfort, reduce swelling, and redness.
WOW Skin Science uses this incredible ingredient in our Aloe Vera Face Wash to refine pores, soothe irritation, and cleanse impurities after a long day in the sun.
Treat hyperpigmentation and signs of aging with our Vitamin C Serum to brighten, tone, and hydrate sun-damaged skin for a smoother, more supple complexion.
Replenish sun-drenched skin with our Hyaluronic Acid Water Gel, plant-powered by hyaluronic acid, Pro-Vitamin B5 and vitamin E to nourish, repair and protect against signs of aging like dryness, wrinkles, spots, and blotchy complexion.
As you can see, sun exposure can have many negative effects on your skin. The good news is that you can take steps to prevent new damage from occurring as well as healing existing damage to keep your skin healthy and safe. Good luck!