Everyone loves the look of a tan – it gives you a noticeable glow that seems to indicate good health. It allows you to stay in the sun for longer periods of time without worry, enjoying outdoor activities like surfing, skiing, and more. Some may even use tanning beds to maintain their tan when they can’t get outside. But at what cost?
You may be surprised to learn that the healthy look of a tan actually indicates its opposite: that your skin’s health has been comprised and is damaged. Prolonged time in the sun can actually cause your skin to age prematurely, becoming more dry and wrinkly with each sunbathing attempt.
How UV Rays Damage the Skin
While the sun is necessary to help plants grow, it can do something similar (but harmful) to beachgoers basking in the sun with iodine and oils slathered on their skin to intensify the sun’s effects. When the skin is exposed and buttered up like this, it is actually aging at a rate it was never meant to.
Tanning beds once touted as a safe alternative to the sun have been found to be far worse for the skin than just being outdoors. These concentrated rays can turn the skin brownish-orange and deeply affect the DNA of genes that control cellular growth. Some have even called tanning beds “cancer in a can.”
There are three different classes of UV radiation, and understanding these differences may help you avoid its harmful effects.
- Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays have the longest reach; it accounts for most of the sun’s radiation that reaches us. It travels through clouds and glass windows. It also penetrates the deepest into our skin, making UVA radiation the primary culprit when it comes to premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, sun spots, and suppression of the immune system.
- Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays represent mid-length waves, some of which are absorbed by the Earth’s ozone layer. UVB rays affect the top layer of skin and are the cause of most cases of sunburn. Because UVB can directly damage DNA, it is strongly linked to the development of skin cancer.
- Ultraviolet C (UVC) rays have the shortest wavelength and are absorbed in Earth’s atmosphere. However, you may be exposed to UVC through artificial sources such as mercury lamps or welding torches.
Not all the effects of UV radiation are bad. In small doses, sunlight can help the body produce vitamin D, which is essential for human health. And by smaller doses, the World Health Organization means 5-15 minutes in the sun two or three times a week – not basking for nine hours straight on a Saturday, which is quite harmful.
Wrinkles and Age Spots
One of the first signs of skin aging due to sun exposure appears around the eyes. Small wrinkles called crow’s feet appear at the outer edges of the eyes are usually the result of squinting in bright light.
The sun can also cause the development of age spots, small darkened areas of the skin that appear in areas subject to extensive sun exposure such as the face, hands, shoulders, and arms. These spots are created by overactive pigment cells that create melatonin, which eventually clumps together to form the spots.
Sun exposure also breaks down collagen in the skin, which gives it its elasticity and youthful look. This can cause people who spend too much time in the sun to have a leathery look and feel to their skin.
Enjoy the Sun, Safely
There are many safe ways to enjoy sunlight without aging your skin prematurely. These include:
- Avoid being in the sun between 10 am – 2 pm, as the sun’s ray are at the highest intensity during these midday hours
- If you must go out, wear waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30
- Wear protective clothing like a hat and sunglasses
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both types of harmful sun rays: UVA and UVB
- Reapply sunscreen every 2-3 hours
If you follow these tips, it can help your skin look younger, longer. You should also visit a dermatologist who can check your skin for changes or moles that may indicate skin cancer. Contact Atlantic Derm in Delray Beach, Florida, by calling (561) 802-7546 or request an appointment now.