Many of us have the heard the warning numerous times since we were children: don’t go outside on sunny days without proper protection, since the sun can hurt our skin. What, exactly, can the sun do, and what can we do to prevent damage to our skin?
The sun and sunburn
The sun gives off ultraviolet A and B rays also known as UVA and UVB. UVA and UVB rays are significant factors in damaging your skin. Too much sun can, among other issues, cause sunburn.
Sunburn is, literally, a burning of your skin from overexposure to ultraviolet radiation. You can get sunburn on any part of your body exposed to the sun, including your eyelids and ears. Symptoms include your skin turning pink or red, pain, tenderness, swelling, blisters, and even a headache or fatigue.
The sun and skin cancer
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. It can be caused by chronic (slow, long-term) exposure to the sun without protection, or even just one episode of a severe sunburn. It usually appears as a brownish spot, a rough patch, or a peeling area that won’t heal. The affected area may also change color, size, or feel. If any of these occur, or you are worried about a spot on your skin, have your doctor examine the area.
The sun and how your skin looks
Your skin has special cells that produce a molecule called melanin, which is a protective mechanism against the sun and its UV rays. When exposed to UV rays, the level of melanin increases to protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays. This is why you get a suntan. The variation in skin tones are the result of the amount of melanin your body naturally produces. Darker skin tones produce melanin in more quantities than lighter skin tones. However, regardless of skin tone, sun protection is important for everyone, because too much sun exposure can cause skin discoloration and your skin to prematurely age.
Premature aging occurs because UV rays weaken the internal bonds in the deeper layers of the skin, resulting in skin that is less elastic. Your skin may become thickened, leathery, wrinkled, saggy, or thinned. Additionally, too much sun can also cause mottled pigmentation, which is when you have patches of skin that are a different color than the surrounding skin.
How can I protect my skin?
“Many people ask me how to prevent the signs of aging,” CEENTA ENT doctor and facial plastic surgeon Jewel Greywoode, MD, said. “Among many other things, sun protection is probably one of the most important considerations. The changes that make the skin look older as a result of exposure to the sun are easily prevented by simple things like wearing a hat and applying sunscreen.”
Try to stay indoors when the sun is at its highest. If you do go out, apply sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30, at least 30 minutes before you go outside. A higher SPF number blocks more of the sun’s rays, but all sunscreen still needs to be reapplied every two hours, especially if you are sweating or were in the water. As a general rule, the lighter the skin type, the higher the SPF number should be. Additionally, look for sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium oxide, as these are effective against both UVA and UVB rays.
Can sun damage be reversed?
Fortunately, sunburn starts healing itself after a few days. However, you’ll want to see a doctor if it covers a large portion of the body, seems infected, is accompanied by a fever, headache, or nausea, or doesn’t improve after a few days.
While rarely life-threatening if treated early, some types of skin cancer can still spread to other parts of the body. Therefore, it is very important to see a doctor if you think you might have skin cancer.
Some cosmetic facial plastic treatments are available for treating the non-cancerous dark spots caused by exposure to the sun. CEENTA offers laser skin resurfacing, which can help eliminate sunspots and remove wrinkles caused by both aging and the sun.
While time in the sun is pleasant, you can have too much of a good thing. Make sure to protect yourself so you can stay healthy while enjoying your day outside.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. Dr. Greywoode practices in our Uptown office. To make an appointment with him or any of CEENTA’s ENT doctors, call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.