Remember when every young woman baked in the sun to get a tan – to look like a bronze goddess? Back then, sun protection was virtually unknown. And besides, a deep tan made you look healthy, right?
Boy, was that wrong!
Today we know that sun exposure is the main cause of premature aging of the skin. Also, the more sun you get, the greater your chance of developing skin cancers.
If you are or ever have had too much sun exposure, you may notice certain symptoms:
Drying of the skin
The sun’s heat depletes the supply of natural lubrication oils in your skin. As a result, your skin may look dry, flaky and prematurely wrinkled.
You’ve probably experienced a sunburn at some time on unprotected areas of your skin. Sunburn is actually an injury to the skin caused by UV radiation. Signs range from reddened skin to fluid-filled bumps to large blisters, depending on the amount of sun exposure. Severe sunburns can even cause nausea and dizziness.
You might see wrinkles, fine lines and thickened skin texture due to changes in the collagen of the dermis, a deep layer of the skin. Actinic purpura results from UV radiation to the collagen that supports the walls of the skin’s tiny blood vessels. That makes them more fragile and more likely to rupture.
If you see tiny, rough bumps or small, scaly patches of skin with a pink, red, yellow or brownish tint, you’re looking at actinic keratoses. They’re due to repeated or long-term exposure to the sun’s UV light. Your sunburn goes away in time, but these keratoses will not. At first, they may be pimple-sized. But about 10% to 15% of these keratoses eventually become squamous cell cancers of the skin. So be sure to see your skin specialist regularly — at least once a year — to monitor them. Actinic keratoses can be removed by freezing, chemical treatment or minor surgery.
Your doctor’s diagnosis
It’s important to pay attention to signs of sun damage. Let your doctor examine your skin regularly. A biopsy of an area affected by actinic keratosis may be done to rule out skin cancer.
The small area of skin that’s removed will be sent to a laboratory for examination. Because an actinic keratosis is a sign that you are at increased risk of skin cancer, your doctor will schedule regular follow-up skin examinations to check for new areas of abnormal skin.
Dealing with sun damage
The best thing you can do is to stay out of the sun to avoid further damage. Some sun damage may be permanent. Ask your doctor to recommend appropriate prescription medicines, non-prescription remedies or skin-resurfacing treatments that may improve the appearance of your skin.
Med spa treatments
There are some in-office treatments your doctor can perform to improve the appearance of your sun-damaged skin. Ask your doctor if these or other types of treatment are appropriate for you:
- Chemical peels can be used to remove the damaged top layer of your skin to allow undamaged new skin to grow.
- Laser resurfacing also can be used to remove the top layer of skin, but with a laser beam instead of a chemical solution.
- Dermabrasion rubs away the outer layer of skin with a special rotating brush or wheel.
- Botox or collagen injections can temporarily reduce wrinkles.
How to prevent damage from sun exposure
There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of sun-damaged skin:
- Apply a water-resistant sunscreen.
Choose one with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or above to protect against both UV-A and UV-B rays. Perspiration and water can wash off sunscreen, so reapply it frequently.
Your lips need sunblock, too. A product formulated for lips should have a sun protection factor of 20 or more.
Try not to spend time outdoors during the between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. That’s when the sun is at its peak intensity.
Wear sunglasses that have UV light protection.
When you’ll be in the sun for an extended period of the time (when you’re gardening, for instance), protect your skin with long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and a wide-brimmed hat.
Some medicines and skin care products can increase your skin’s risk of UV damage. They include certain antibiotics and prescription medicines used to treat psychiatric illness, high blood pressure, heart failure, acne and allergies. Some non-prescription skin care products containing alpha-hydroxy acids also can make your skin more sensitive to sun damage.
You and your doctor are a great defensive team against skin damage and skin cancer. You are the first line of defense. So be on the lookout for any signs of trouble, and call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- Dry skin that doesn’t go away even when you use over-the-counter moisturizers.
- A severe blistering sunburn.
- Sunburn over a large area of skin, especially if it’s painful.
- A persistent scaly patch or nodule.
- Abnormal bleeding under the skin or easily bruised skin.
- Any changes in moles.
If you have questions about skin care
Please feel free to call us at 913-451-3722. We’ll be glad to answer your questions or schedule an appointment at your convenience.