Sun Damage or Photoaging

Sun Damage or Photoaging

AUTHOR: Dra. Mónica Alfaro


Your skin is constantly exposed to a variety of components in the environment that can damage the skin or cause photoaging.   70% of the aging of the skin is due to sun damage or sun exposure.  The environment contains a number of agents that accumulate on the surface of the skin and can cause different skin conditions as simple as acne or allergic reactions.

Remember the days when darker skin was fashion.  Hours and hours in the sun or tanning beds were invested to have tanned “healthy looking” skin.  Well, 20 years later you look at that investment and your skin shows signs of this unprotected exposure on your face, chest, neck, arms.  Some of these signs might be mild like medium to fine wrinkles, some saggy skin, hyperpigmentation or spots and uneven skin tone, but others can be of more clinical significance like precancerous or cancerous skin lesions.


The first thing you can do, even if you are already showing sign of sun damage is preventing any more damage to your skin.  Protection by means of physical measure like the use of long sleeves, a hat, sunglasses is always beneficial, as well as a broad spectrum sunscreen that will protect you from ultraviolet exposure, especially on the areas of your skin that cannot be covered by clothing or otherwise protected.


Sun exposure can lead to skin cancer.  So, avoid tanning beds, and if possible, manage your sun exposure to the least harmful times in the day, before 10 am or after 3 pm.  Be aware of any changes on your skin.  New spots that show up, areas that flake, bleed without stimulus or are very itchy are places that your doctor need to check, as well as any areas that have irregular shape, coloring or that grow very rapidly.  Anything that seems unusual should be evaluated by a trained physician.  Some people cannot manage or prevent their sun exposure because it is part of their work to be exposed.  If you are in this group of people, consider regular skin checks as a necessary thing to do.


People that have a family history of skin cancer, those who have had serious sunburns with peeling of the skin or those who are very fair skinned should also have periodical skin checks to monitor any changes on their skin.


Prevention is always best, but for those who already show signs of sun damage on their skin, all is not lost.  Interventions to minimize these signs can vary from the use of topical creams and gels, chemical peels, mechanical peels and the use of technologies like laser, IPL or intense pulsed light and fractional dermabrasion by means of radio frequency or plasma energy.

These treatments can help uneven pigment and texture or roughness, they can help shrink pores and stimulate the production of new collagen.  They encourage skin cells to slough off, regenerate the skin and renew, they slow down the skin’s degeneration from rogue chemicals, such as free radicals, that cause visible signs of damage.  Antioxidants can aid in the treatment of the signs of aging, reducing ultraviolet damage to skin and help to reduce the breakdown of collagen.


The damage produced on our skin by sun exposure will slow down the rate at which the skin cells renew themselves resulting in dull, dry skin with uneven tone and texture.  All these signs of aging as well as precancerous and cancerous lesions have different treatment options that must be discussed with your doctor.  Waiting, without professional guidance, is usually not the best strategy.  Consult with your doctor about all of these treatment options for your skin’s needs.


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