How does the sun affect the skin?

The sun affects the skin in several ways. Because exposure to the sun causes most of the skin changes associated with aging, protecting the skin from the sun is the single most important skin care practice you can adopt. Significant exposure to the sun will wrinkle and dry the skin. Uneven pigmentation -- from freckles to small or large brown spots -- is another side effect of frequent sunning. Melasma, commonly associated with pregnancy, is brought out by the sun and produces large brown patches on the forehead and cheeks.

The most serious consequence of sun exposure is skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, making up nearly half of all diagnosed cases of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Most sun damage occurs prior to the age of 18, but skin cancer can take up to 20 or more years to develop. Children who experience just a few serious sunburns are believed to have an increased risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
One effect sun has on skin is to encourage it to produce vitamin D, which is a very good thing. Unfortunately, another effect of sun exposure is to cause sunburn. This occurs when the penetration of the sun's rays (ultraviolet A and B) goes deep enough into the dermis (inner layer of skin) that it then damages the cells. On the other hand, sun tanning is a protective response caused by skin cells called melanocytes producing more pigment (melanin), which helps protect the skin from sunburns. A long-term effect of sun exposure on the skin is to cause it to lose elasticity and become more wrinkled.
Exposing your skin to sunlight (and the harmful ultraviolet rays that come along with it) is thought to be one of main causes of skin damage, including wrinkles and cancer. Always wear a high SPF sunscreen, even on cloudy days and in colder climates; it doesn't have to be sunny for UV rays to reach you.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Ben Kaminsky
The sun is to blame for freckles, age spots, spider veins, leathery skin, loose skin, and actinic keratoses, the thick, rough growths on sun-exposed skin. Exposure to the sun, wind, and other elements results in more than 80 percent of the damage on the face, resulting in deep lines and wrinkles, thickened skin, discoloration, and even skin cancer.
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Beyond Botox: 7 Strategies for Sexy, Ageless Skin Without Needles or Surgery

Sexy and ageless skin is possible for a woman at any age--and she doesn't have to resort to invasive treatments like Botox to get it-as long as she cares for her skin properly, says Ben Kaminsky,...
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Sun-worshippers, wake up. Skin cancer is a scary reality, and excessive sun exposure and tanning is the leading cause of premature aging. Transform your take on tanning, avoid dangerous UV rays, and be responsible about how much time you spend in the sun.
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The ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can lead to many skin changes, including relatively mild things like freckles and wrinkles and also more serious conditions like skin cancer. The best way to keep your skin healthy is to avoid getting too much exposure to UV rays. Whether you usually tan or burn, any change in skin color shows that your skin has been damaged by UV rays. Wear sunscreen with a high sun protective factor (SPF), cover exposed skin as much as you can, and stay out of the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tanning beds also expose you to harmful UV rays, so it's important to avoid them, as well.
Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD
The sun has an extraordinary direct impact on the skin. But in a nutshell, imagine the sun's rays as being like a laser gun, disintegrating your collagen and destroying your cells' DNA. It's almost that simple. The sun can be blamed for over one million new cancers each year, affecting approximately one in seventy people. One in every five people will develop skin cancer during his or her lifetime. How does this wonderful-feeling, beautiful sunshine wreak such havoc? The short UVB wavelengths hit the epidermis and cause sunburns, the obvious immediate sign of sun damage. The longer UVA rays penetrate further into the dermis, causing not only a suntan (a sign of trauma) but premature aging (those rays dissolve collagen and elastin) and skin cancers. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that more than 90 percent of skin cancers are caused by sun exposure. The National Cancer Institute adds that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than one million skin cancers diagnosed annually.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.