The Link Between Sun Exposure and Premature Aging

 In Aging

You probably know that the sun is responsible for premature aging of the skin, but there’s a good chance you don’t know how the sun does its damage, and you may not even fully understand the extent of the damage it can do.

At Sadick Dermatology, we know that treating our patients and keeping them healthy involves educating them about their risks and the behaviors that can increase those risks. So to that end, we’re providing a little rundown on how the sun does its damage, as well as a couple of eye-opening facts about just how much damage it does:

Sunlight and Premature Aging

Repeated sun exposure damages skin in several ways. One of the primary ways is through the breakdown of collagen beneath the skin. Collagen is one of the primary components of skin that helps it retain its plump, resilient appearance. Over time, sun exposure causes collagen to break down and inhibits the development of new collagen. We also produce less collagen as we age. Combine these two factors, and you begin to see how the sun can make us look much older than we actually are.

As collagen decreases, our skin becomes less “stretchy” and resilient and fine lines and wrinkles begin to form. What’s more, some studies have shown that repeated exposure to the sun interferes with the skin’s natural ability to repair and heal itself at the cellular level, leaving it open to additional damage from the sun and other environmental and lifestyle factors.

The sun rays also deplete the skin of its natural oils, which contributes to the formation of lines and wrinkles and can cause skin to appear leathery, rough and blotchy. Spider veins, age spots or rough, warty patches called actinic keratoses can all be traced to sun exposure, and they also can all contribute to skin’s aged appearance.

The Extent of Damage

OK, you say, UV rays can damage the skin; but do they really cause that much damage? Yes – that much, and more. In fact, a recent study from researchers in France revealed that the sun’s UV rays may be responsible for as much as 80 percent of your skin’s visible signs of aging. What’s more, they found that people who have had significant sun exposure tend to look several years older than their biologic ages while those who have very limited exposure (and who have worn sunscreen on a regular basis) look a few years younger than their ages.

Contrary to some research from decades ago that hypothesized that the UV rays were most harmful to young skin, this study also determined that the harmful effects of those UV rays actually increase as we age.

What You Can Do

First, if you aren’t wearing sunscreen, start doing so, and make sure you wear enough and reapply it regularly. Second, when you’re in the sun, wear clothing that protects your arms and legs and, ideally, opt for a large-brimmed hat to shield your face and eyes (they can be damaged by the sun’s rays, too).

Ask your dermatologist about treatments that can reverse the signs of aging so you don’t look old before your time. And most importantly, see your dermatologist regularly so you can be examined for the early – and most treatable – signs of skin cancer. Postponing regular screenings can have significant – even deadly – consequences, so if it’s been some time since your last screening call us at 212-772-7242 and schedule an appointment today.

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