Our skin is the largest organ in the body and is constantly under a great deal of stress. It protects all underlying structures, so its health, structure and integrity are paramount. The rays of the sun, while helping the skin synthesize vitamin D, can unfortunately also damage the skin if exposed for long periods of time.
There are certain aspects of skin damage from sun exposure that everyone must be aware of. In this article, we shall take a quick look at the effects of the sun on the skin, and how you can spot when the skin is being damaged due to sunlight.
Skin changes due to sun exposure
Sunlight contains ultraviolet rays. While most of these rays are filtered out by the ozone layer in the sky, a fair bit still passes through. When skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays, it can damage a component of the skin called elastin. Elastin is a highly elastic protein that helps the skin to return to its original position when it is poked or pinched. The breakdown of elastin means the skin becomes a lot more vulnerable to tearing, blemishes, bruising and sagging. Some of the changes that can occur in the skin due to sun exposure include:
• Blemishes and freckles
• Pigmented areas (‘mottled’ pigmentation)
• Dilated capillaries that are visible under the skin (called telangiectasia)
• Skin tumors – These are often benign, but malignant cancers can occur.
The most worrying aspect of sun damage to the skin is the development of skin cancer. Individuals with fairer skin and freckles are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer. Of course, the presence of other factors such as family history can also play a role.
Spotting sun-damaged skin
Being aware of what damage the sun can do to the skin is the first step to taking care of it. As skin cancer is the most worrying aspect of skin damage, the section below describes some of the changes one might see if they have developed sun-induced skin damage. Please bear in mind that these changes will have to be reviewed by a doctor before a diagnosis is made.
Prolonged exposure to the sun without using adequate skin protection can cause redness; this is commonly called sunburn. It requires treatment that includes soothing ointments and dressings, especially if blisters form.
Moles are common skin lesions. A change in the size of a mole, change in the appearance of the edges, change in colour and the commencement of itching of the mole can be indicators of it turning into a tumor called a melanoma. Other cancers such as basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer also have rather characteristic appearances as well, appearing often as small growths or irregularities on the skin surface.
Sun exposure for long periods of time can damage the skin. It is essential to realize this and take the necessary precautions to protect it. If you notice any changes in your skin that appear unusual to you, then it is important that you pay your doctor a visit to get it checked out.