Sun, Skin, and… Aging?
What you Need to Know About the Damaging Effects of UV Rays
As soon as the summer season hits, we covet that sun-kissed bronzed look. You know, the one where your coworkers picture you laying out on the beach, waves crashing in the background, wide-brimmed sun hat on head, colorful cocktail in hand?
What we forget to picture in this blissful scene is damaging rays of ultraviolet light radiating from the sun, penetrating your skin, leading to sunburns, sunspots, wrinkling, and premature aging. Don’t worry, we mention this with care. We’re not trying to ruin your beach day for you – we’re here to get your prepared for your best sun-kissed look yet, and reverse some of that UV-damage from your past (pre-Therapeutic Aesthetics) vacations!
What is Ultraviolet Radiation?
The sun emits different categories of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, depending on their wavelengths: UVC radiation, UVB radiation, and UVA radiation.
UVC radiation travels the shortest wavelength from the sun (about 100 to 290 nanometers), and it is almost entirely absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer. Short story (pun intended) short – UVC rays don’t travel far enough onto the earth to affect your skin or cause photoaging.
UVB radiation travels further (290 nanometers to 320 nanometers) from the sun than UVC, and can reach the outermost layer of your skin when your skin is exposed to the sun. You’ve probably already encountered UVB rays without realizing it. Remember your last sunburn? That was UVB. UVB tends to be most intense between the daytime hours of 10AM to 4 PM, when the sun is at its peak, especially during the summer months.
Lastly, UVA radiation travels the farthest wavelength from the sun (about 320 to 400 nanometers), and is the primary culprit of long-term sun damage. UVA rays penetrate from the outer skin into deeper layers of the skin, where they mutate skin structure at a cellular level. UVA rays destroy blood vessels, and collagen and elastin in the skin, which are key players in keeping our skin lifted, firm, and youthful.
How do UV Rays Cause Signs of Aging?
Medical specialists have many names to refer to sun-damaged skin: photo-aging, solar damage, sun damage, photo-damage. Whatever you choose to call it, the bottom line is that prolonged sun exposure leads to aging skin. Also, it’s important to note that it’s not just the sun that’s at the center of this: tanning beds emit UV rays that contribute to photoaging, too.
When UV rays hit skin that is unprotected and exposed, the rays will damage the skin’s DNA on a cellular level. Since cellular damage starts off microscopic, it can take years to notice the visible effects of irreversible long-term UV-damage. Depending on your level of exposure, photoaging can first start in our teens or early twenties, and continue for as long as our skin is exposed to UV rays.
UV rays are known to damage collagen and elastin deep inside the dermis. The damaged elastin fibers try to fight the damage by rebuilding collagen, but any collagen that is rebuilt ends up damaged as well. Over time, this results in degraded skin composition, producing wrinkles, leathery skin, uneven tone, and loss of elasticity.
Exposure to UV radiation accelerates the breakdown of collagen at a rate that is higher than the breakdown observed in the course of normal aging. This is because UV radiation gives rise to free radicals in our skin. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules, which increase the number of enzymes in our system that breakdown collagen.
Is Everyone Prone to Photoaging?
Photoaging does not discriminate. The extent of UV-related aging that you incur will depend on how much time you’ve spent exposed to UV rays, without using SPF protection. Skin type and complexion can also affect how signs of photoaging show up, and the risk factors associated with UV exposure.
A lot of our patients with sun damage feel regretful that they didn’t take better care of their skin in their youth, and have only just began to incorporate daily sunscreen into their skincare routines.
Here are some signs of UV-related sun damage, as a result of collagen and elastin breakdown:
- Pigmented spots on the skin (freckles, age spots, liver spots, etc.)
- Uneven skin texture (sometimes small bumps, or roughness)
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Appearance of broken blood vessels/capillaries
- Loss of firmness, tone, and elasticity
- Dehydrated or generally dry skin