Sun Damage: What Does It Look Like & How Do We Reverse It?

August 7, 2019

The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is comprised of intense wavelengths that are naked to the human eye. These wavelengths, which come in the form of UVA and UVB rays, both play a large role in premature aging, eye damage, and the development of skin cancers. Although both can pose harm, it’s important to decipher the differences between UVA and UVB rays.

You’ll likely expose yourself to a large amount of UVA rays during your life. They are present during all daylight hours and can even penetrate through clouds and glass. UVA rays infiltrate deeper into the skin and are a huge contributor to premature aging.

On the other hand, UVB rays are less invasive and are responsible for sunburns and tans. However, they play a significant role in the development of skin cancer. These cause year-round damage and intensify at higher altitudes.
Although you can’t see UV rays, you certainly can see their damaging effects. Here are a few ways the sun poses harm to your health, and what you can do to reverse and prevent it:

Sunburns // You’ve probably experienced a sunburn at some point in your life, but do you know how a sunburn actually affects your skin? While sunburns fade into a darker complexion over time, they can accumulate and cause long-lasting harm to your skin. As the sun penetrates your unprotected skin, it damages the skin’s cells and can even cause DNA mutation. Your sunburn will eventually heal, but a portion of the remaining cells may escape repair and remain mutated.

Age Spots // Dark, patchy spots can develop on the skin as the result of sun exposure. These pigmentations typically develop due to accumulated exposure over the years and are more apparent as you age. Although these are signs of sun damage, they don’t typically pose harm to your health. Age spots are commonly found on the back of the hands, shoulders, face, and back.

Acne Hyperpigmentation // Many who experience acne are under the impression that the sun can cure acne, as breakouts typically clear up after repeated exposure. However, the sun only temporarily “heals” acne. Sun exposure doesn’t actually cure acne but instead dries out the skin, making any active acne dry out as well. While the sun dries out your skin, it also contributes to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation by stimulating melanin production. This means that, although it may seem that the sun is clearing your acne, it’s leaving you with marks to remember them by.

Wrinkles // Sun overexposure can disrupt the health of your skin and exacerbate signs of premature aging. It can dehydrate the skin and inhibit collagen production. Collagen is essential in maintaining the elasticity and firmness of your skin. Over time, you may notice the development of sagging skin, fine lines, and wrinkles.

Dry, Faded Hair // Don’t let those sun-kissed highlights fool you into thinking the sun is making your hair better. Contrarily, this can be a sign that the sun is taking a toll on your hair. Damage can be seen through dry, faded, and frizzy hair. Additionally, if you notice that your hair is shedding more than normal, this can also be a tell-tale sign that your hair has endured sun damage.

Cataracts // When exposed to light, a majority of UV rays penetrates the eye through its lens, damaging the eye. Eventually, this can lead to the development of cataracts. When this happens, the lens may become red, irritated, cloudy, and can even lead to vision loss.

How to Reverse Signs of Damage: Although it’s impossible to reverse all signs of sun damage, there are a few essential ingredients you can introduce to your routine to help. Here are a few things you can add to your daily regimen:
  • Retinol - A great way to boost collagen production and reduce acne breakouts is by using skin-care products that contain prescription-strength retinol. These stimulate cell turnover, which allows your skin to shed its outer layers to reveal smoother, more radiant skin. If you plan to use or are currently using a retinol treatment, be sure to only use it in your nighttime routine as it can cause sun sensitivity if worn during the day.
  • Azelaic Acid - This ingredient is essential for reversing signs of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) caused by acne. It not only reduces inflammation but also speeds up cell turnover. The only catch with this ingredient is you won’t find it in stores as it needs to be prescribed by a healthcare professional. 
  • Vitamin C - The skin needs antioxidants in order to fight off free radicals from sun exposure. It helps protect your skin from damage while simultaneously brightening your complexion. Vitamin C can be found in many forms including serums, sprays, and creams.
  • Plant Oil Mask - For dry and damaged locks, try using a hair mask that contains plant oils for intense hydration and repair against sun damage. Coconut, tamanu, and sunflower seed extract are all great ingredients for after-sun hair care.
How to Prevent Damage Altogether:
  1. Use Sunscreen Daily: Sunscreen is a necessity in order to protect your overall health. For optimal protection, you should apply it multiple times throughout the day. You should also use it every day since UVA rays can penetrate the skin even on overcast days. Check each label when searching for sunscreen and make sure it offers broad-spectrum protection, which protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. If you’re concerned about sunscreen worsening breakouts, don’t worry. There are certain sunscreens specifically formulated for acne-prone skin.
  2. Wear UV Protective Clothing: To ensure you’re fully protected from the UV rays’ harmful effects, try using UV protective clothing and accessories. You can choose clothing that contains UV protection within the fabric to assert safety. A tip to see if your clothing will protect you is by holding it up to the light; if you see light shining through, your skin will be exposed to the sun even underneath the clothing. Additionally, to prevent eye and hair damage, always wear UV-blocking sunglasses when outside and a floppy hat to protect your hair and any exposed skin. 
  3. Reference the UV Index: The UV index is a scale that signifies the strength and risk factor of the sun’s rays. When learning how to read a UV scale, it’s important to note that any rating over a level 5 index means that it’s especially dangerous to be outside. During these instances, be sure to stay inside or in the shade as much as possible. The index is typically at its highest between 10am and 4pm, so on high index days, it’s a good idea to only spend time outside in the morning or evening. 

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