The True Effects of Sun Exposure on Your Skin

With summer in full swing, most of us are looking forward to spending time at neighborhood cookouts, pool parties, and other warm-weather events like baseball games and concerts. The longer days and warmer weather make summer one of the most enjoyable times of the year, but anytime we go outside, we need to take precautions to avoid sun damage to our skin. Here’s what you need to know to be smart about protecting yourself and your family from excessive sun exposure – not just this summer, but all year long. 

How Do the Sun’s Rays Affect Us?

We count on our sun to provide the heat and light that make life on Earth possible. As beneficial as the sun’s rays are, however, some elements of sunlight can be harmful. These are known as ultraviolet (UV) rays, and there are three different kinds: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

UVA rays are the most common form of sun exposure. UVB rays represent less sun exposure, but are more intense. UVC rays can cause the most damage, but luckily, our planet’s ozone layer protects us from this most dangerous category of UV rays.

Though UV rays are invisible, they can still penetrate your skin and cause damage to the inner layer, which is called the dermis. The outer layer of your skin is known as the epidermis, which contains a skin-protecting pigment called melanin. People with fair skin have less of this protective element, which is why they are more vulnerable to sunburns. 

Excessive sun exposure allows UV rays to reach your inner skin layers – a phenomenon you know as a sunburn. Over time, UV rays can cause skin cell damage, including cancer. Signs of sunburn include the following.

  • Redness: Your skin will flush from light pink to deep red due to an increase in blood flow, which can happen either immediately or gradually. You may be able to recall a time when you didn’t realize you were sunburned until a few hours after going back indoors.
  • Skin that’s hot and sensitive to the touch: When you have a severe sunburn, you may also experience chills and goosebumps, similar to the symptoms of a fever.
  • Painful, itchy or tight skin
  • Blisters
  • Dehydration
  • Peeling: This phenomenon is your body’s way of shedding the skin cells that were damaged by the UV rays.

Risks of Sun Exposure

Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, which your body needs to build and maintain healthy bones. Because we don’t make vitamin D on our own, we need to get it from other sources, one of which is the sun. A brief amount of sun exposure helps trigger vitamin D production. However, you should still limit the time you spend in full sunlight, and always protect your skin from UV damage, even on cloudy days, to avoid harmful side effects such as the following.

  • Premature aging: UV rays cause skin aging to accelerate. Signs of this are wrinkles, uneven skin tone and texture, or leathery skin.
  • Skin changes: Some skin cells with melanin can form freckles and moles. Over time, these can become cancerous.
  • Eye injuries: If you don’t protect your eyes from the sun, UV rays can burn your corneas. 
  • Skin cancer: Most skin cancer is very treatable if you catch it early. Regular screenings with your dermatologist can help preserve your peace of mind and ensure your skin remains healthy.

Ways to Stay Safe in the Sun

Regardless of your age, overall health, or the amount of melanin you have, you should not take sun exposure lightly. Before going outside, always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30, and reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. Wear clothes, hats, and sunglasses that block UV rays. When the sun is at its peak, take frequent breaks in the shade. Also, never use tanning beds. Even though the light doesn’t come from the sun, that does not make it safe. Tanning beds produce a high degree of UV radiation.

How to Turn Back the Clock on Sun Damage

If you are concerned about the long-term effects of sun damage on your skin, contact the Maryland Institute of Plastic Surgery today. We offer healing facial treatments and cutting-edge laser treatments to treat a range of skin concerns, including reducing sun damage. We have offices in Baltimore and Columbia to make it convenient for you to make a consultation appointment with one of our four board-certified cosmetic surgeons.