Sun Damage: What It Really Does to Your Skin
We’re always being told to avoid getting too much sun, but how many of us actually know exactly what it’s doing to our skin? Skin cancer is probably the first thing to come to mind, but the sun can cause a significant amount of damage before cancer comes into play. So before you ignore the warnings because you “don’t spend that much time out in the sun,” let’s get educated on what’s really going on with your skin when you sit under the sun’s burning rays.
How Does the Sun Damage My Skin?
The sun shines ultraviolet (UV) light onto all of us daily, even when it doesn’t feel hot outside. And with a constantly thinning ozone layer, that UV light is getting more intense every day. UV rays penetrate deep into your skin and destroy your skin cells, as well as fibres in your skin called elastin, which give your skin its flexibility and keep it from wrinkling or sagging.
What Effects Can the Sun Have on My Skin?
The sun can cause a huge variety of changes to your skin, including freckles, moles, discolouration, both fine and coarse wrinkles, sagging skin, and blood vessel dilation, not to mention precancerous and cancerous skin lesions and tumours.
Every time you get sunburn, the top layers of your skin release chemicals, which in turn make your blood vessels swell and leak fluids. You may even develop blisters if the burn is severe enough. You’ll notice that after a sunburn, your skin will eventually dry up and peel away—that’s your body getting rid of all of the damaged skin cells on its surface. Even though your skin will heal and look normal after sunburn, according to the U.K. National Health Service, “just one episode of blistering sunburn before the age of 20 can double your chance of getting malignant melanoma.”
The most important thing to remember, however, is that it doesn’t take a sunburn to cause damage—repeated, accumulated exposure to the sun will inevitably damage your skin over time.
How Can I Prevent Sun Damage?
The most effective ways of preventing damage are straightforward: cover your skin when you’re out in the sun, and when you can’t, always wear sunscreen. Sure, you hear that all the time, but do you follow through? The Canadian Skin Care Guide states that 70% of individuals who participated in a beach survey were there to either get or maintain a tan, and of those people, only half were wearing sunscreen. A survey of Alberta skiers found that only two-thirds of them were using sunscreen, and of those, a third were sunburned at the time of survey (skincareguide.ca).
It’s time to get serious about SPF—and don’t forget your eyes, your head, or your face, either! So when you slather on the sunscreen, make sure you’re also putting on a hat and your sunglasses, and including SPF in your daily makeup or skin care regime. And always reapply sunscreen every few hours to ensure its effectiveness. If you can, try to avoid being out in the sun during its most intense hours of the day (from about 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.).
Can I Reverse My Current Sun Damage?
Yes! It’s never too late to slow down your skin’s aging process! There are a number of steps you can take to reverse some of the damage caused by the sun, including:
- Wearing sunscreen on a daily basis: yes, we just covered this, but it’s so important that it’s worth mentioning again and again (and again!). When we say “on a daily basis,” we really mean it, too—whether it’s a cold day in November or a scorching day in July, apply the SPF.
- Using skin care products rich in vitamin C and retinol (a vitamin A derivative). Both are proven to help reverse sun damage.
- Upping your daily intake of foods rich in vitamins A, E, and C. As we mentioned in an earlier blog post, “Five Steps to Healthy, Beautiful Skin,” your internal health is reflected in your external appearance, and foods packed with these vitamins are proven to protect the skin from sun damage and aging. Need some diet ideas? Start eating more fruits and vegetables like broccoli, carrots, mangoes, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and nuts and seeds like almonds, flax, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. Your skin (and body) will thank you for it!
CosMedics also offers different treatments for more serious sun damage issues, including moles and sunspots. A licensed medical practictioner, CosMedics’ Dr. Singh is experienced in mole removal, which can either be completed manually or using intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment, depending on the mole. IPL is also used for treating sunspots and broken capillaries, and for reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The intense light is applied to problem areas and absorbed by the pigment in your skin, resulting in a lightened, more uniform skin tone.
What are your favourite ways to include vitamins A, C, and E in your diet? What are your favourite SPF skin care products? Do you have an absolutely fabulous pair of sunglasses you want to show off? Send us your ideas, comments, and photos!