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Sun Damaged Skin

Skin aging is a complex biological process influenced by your genetics and environment. The largest contributor to skin aging is chronic ultraviolet light exposure from the sun. 90% of skin aging is attributed to the sun. While we also love being outdoors enjoying Utah’s natural beauty, there are ways to do it safely.

Photoaging is premature aging of the skin caused by prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun. Many normal skin changes associated with chronological aging are accelerated with sun exposure.

Unlike chronological aging, which is determined by your genetics, photoaging depends primarily on the degree of sun exposure and the amount of melanin in the skin. Individuals who have a history of intensive sun exposure, live in a sunny geographical area, such as Utah, and have fair skin will experience the greatest amount of UV radiation and more severe photoaging.

How does the sun cause damage?

Sun damage is caused by ultraviolet radiation (UV A & B) that penetrates deep into the skin and permanently damages the skin DNA. Sunburn is a superficial skin response to sun exposure on unprotected skin. However, cumulative sun damage permanently harms the skin and can take years to become visible in the form of pigment changes and skin cancer.

What are the signs of sun damage?

The skin’s self-protective mechanism is to produce excess melanin, the brown pigment that creates a tan. Tanning is the skins attempt to protect the skin’s DNA from being damaged. The signs of photoaging include hyperpigmentation including sunspots and dark spots, red spots, a mottled pigmentation, rough and uneven skin texture, loss of skin tone, dilated blood vessels or spider veins, dryness, deep furrows, skin laxity, a leathery appearance, precancerous lesions (actinic keratoses), and skin cancers.

Collagen and elastin are the supportive tissues that give the skin its firmness and elasticity. After age 20, our body produces about 1% less collagen every year.  UV radiation deteriorates collagen and elastin and inhibits collagen synthesis in the skin. Deteriorated collagen and elastin lead to fine lines, deep wrinkles, and sagging skin. The most common form of degenerated elastic tissues is called solar elastosis which appears as thick, yellow skin and deep wrinkles.

New research is reporting that not only the UV radiation from the sun and tanning beds causes photoaging, but also visible blue light from electronic devices and infrared radiation. The only way to avoid photoaging is daily photoprotection with sunscreen, hats, and clothing.

Who is at risk for photoaging?

Anyone who spends time in the sun with unprotected skin is at risk. However, fair skinned individuals are more vulnerable to sun damage. People who do not tan, burn easily, or burn and then tan are at increased risk. However, people of color can also develop sunspots, skin cancer, and hyperpigmentation.

How can photoaging be prevented?

The key to sun protection is adopting good sun protection habits including, avoid the use of tanning beds, daily use of sunscreen, wearing a hat and protective clothing. A broad-spectrum sunscreen, either chemical or mineral formulation, should be part of your daily skin care regiment. Regardless of type Dr. Michael Sotiriou recommends you use a sunblock that is at least 30 SPF or higher.

There are two types of sunscreen ingredients: physical (or mineral) and chemical. Physical blockers, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, block the sun rays and reflect UV light off your skin. If looking for a blocking sunscreen look for micronized zinc and titanium. The ingredients stay on the top of the skin and are not absorbed into the body. 100% physical block sunscreens are also reef safe. Some mineral sunblocks may not rub into the skin as well, leaving a white residue, but Dr. Michael Sotiriou can recommend more elegant brands that are nearly colorless when applied to the skin.

Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that absorbed the UV radiation and dissipate it’s energy. While there is some concern that chemical sunblocks are absorbed into the body, no long-term health effects have been found in clinical studies. Chemical sunscreen used by individuals with sensitive skin may cause allergies and may be advised to avoid the use of chemical sunscreens, however the majority of patients will not experience reactions to chemical sunscreens. Lastly, chemical sunscreens may play a role in the destruction of coral reefs, and as a result some tourist destinations have banned the use of chemical sunscreens on their beaches.

Sun screens should be applied 20-30 minutes before going in the sun. All sunscreens being used for intense sun exposure or while working out should be water or sweat proof and reapplied every two hours.

Because of the new science about harmful indoor blue light from computers, smartphones, and fluorescent lighting, it is a good idea to wear sun screen indoors too! Lastly, while we commute to and from work or running errands, those little amounts of sun exposure add up over time, so it’s important to wear a daily moisturizer that has SPF 30 or higher. These daily sunblocks are great because they don’t feel sticky or greasy, nor do they leave a white residue on your skin.

Dr. Sotiriou recommends his patients have an annual skin check to assess for skin cancers and to discuss ways to prevent and treat photoaging. We carry various skin care products and can help you find a routine custom tailored for your skin. If you have concerns about dark spots, sunspots, precancerous lesions and rough and hyperpigmented skin contact Salt Lake Dermatology & Aesthetics, in Salt Lake City Utah to schedule an appointment.

At a Glance

Dr. Michael Sotiriou

  • Board-certified, Residency-Trained Medical and Cosmetic Dermatologist
  • Sub-Specialty Board Certification in Mohs Micrographic Dermatologic Surgery from the American Board of Dermatology
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology
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