Excessive exposure to Sun’s radiation depletes the skin of its natural lubricating oils and cause burning and a long term changes in its internal structure.
The most common types of sun damage to the skin are
Dry Skin — Excessive sun exposure leads to a gradual loss of moisture and essential oils making the skin dry, flaky and wrinkled even in the young.
Sunburn — This happens after an exposure to excessive UV radiation. In Mild cases only a painful reddening of skin is seen whereas in more severe cases we can see tiny fluid-filled bumps (vesicles) or large blisters. If you do not further expose your skin to Sun’s radiation and protect it with a sunscreen or a sun block , the redness should subside in a few days.
Actinic Keratosis — They present as tiny bumps with a red, pink, brown or an yellowish color and a sandpaper like texture. They don’t go away naturally, they have to be frozen, chemically treated by a doctor. This phenomenon occurs in areas of skin which were subject to repeated & long term exposure to the UV rays in the Sun’s radiation. They could be pre malignant lesion in 10-15% of cases, which can pave way to squamous cell cancers of skin, hence should be managed with urgency.
Mechanism of Sun Damage
‘Photo Aging’ is a situation where changes occur in the collagen of the dermis after a period of harsh exposure to Sun’s radiation which leads to premature ageing.
‘Actinic Purpura’: The walls of the tiny blood vessels are supported by the structural collagen, on repeated exposure to UV radiation, this collagen gets damaged and leads to fragile vessels which can rupture easily even with a slight impact. People in their old age are more susceptible to this condition.
Repeated and harsh exposure to Sun’s radiation increases one’s risk of developing malignant melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. Melanin is a naturally occurring dark pigment in one’s skin which protects it from the harmful effects of UV radiation. Fair skinned people, as a rule, have this pigment in low levels and are a greater risk of this damage.
Sun damaged skin can often be diagnosed by simple clinical examination. Sometimes a small biopsy of the affected skin could be necessary to rule out cancers.
Some forms of damage could be is permanent, however we can try to improve the skin’s appearance with medications and skin resurfacing treatments.
The type of treatment depends on the form of sun damage
- Moisturiser with ingredients such as glycerine, urea, pyroglutamic acid, sorbitol, alpha-hydroxy acids, lactic acid, and lactate salts.
- Take bath with warm or cold water
- Use an unscented soap with a high fat content or with glycerin.
- Hot baths and showers – These make your skin ever drier.
- Try applying a cool compress like a wet cloth to the area of injury
- Mist the area with sprays of cold water
- If pain persists consult a physician
- Don’t use creams with alpha-hydroxy acids or any other acids on skin with sun burns.
Actinic keratosis The choice of treatment depends on the number, size and location of the actinic keratosis.
Some of treatment options include
- Topical fluorouracil
- Topical imiquimod
- Topical diclofenac sodium gel
- Chemical peels
- Laser resurfacing
- Shave excision
- Photodynamic treatment (PDT)
Photoaging and other Collagen Changes
Even though the long term effects of sun damage are difficult to reverse , some of the treatment options can be employed to improve the appearance of the skin.
Some of the treatment modalities include
- Tretinoin ( a derivative of vitamin A)
- Alpha-hydroxy acids
- Chemical peels
- Laser resurfacing
- Botulinum toxin (Botox)
- Fillers such as Restylane, Juvederm or collagen to temporarily reduce wrinkles.
You can help to prevent sun-damaged skin by taking the following steps
- Sunscreen: Choose a water resistant sunscreen that has an SPF >30 with a broad spectrum of protection against both UV-A and UV-B rays. Reapply often as it may wear off with washing or sweat.
- Sunblock: Use a sun block formulated specially for lips with an SPF>20.
- Outdoor time: Limit your time outdoors during the peak daylight hours
- Sunglasses: Wear large sunglasses which can adequately cover your eyes thus giving a protection from the UV light.
- Clothing: Dress smart with long pants and sleeves which can act as a physical block from the sun.
- Some medications can increase the risk of skin damage due UV radiation. Some of these include drugs for psychiatric illness, high blood pressure, heart failure, acne & allergies. Some over the counter medications containing alpha-hydroxy acids can pose a similar risk. Contact your physician if need to take any special precautions with the medications you are taking.
- Keep an eye and do a self-examination of all parts of your body for patches of discoloured or scaly skin, sores, moles, small pearly nodules and other skin abnormalities. If you have any actinic keratosis, get a check-up from a dermatologist twice a year.
Click here for the cost for procedures done to treat sun damaged skin.