The sun has mixed feelings about us just as much as we love the sun. Sure, helps us grow food and keeps us warm, but our big beautiful start will always end up spending too much its much time basking in its glory, repaying you with blisters, burns, leathery skin, and even cancer.
In less than an hour, sun damage can occur, especially for people with the fairest skin. But the cumulative effects of sun damage can be lasting even if you are cautious and avoid burns.
Like other poor skin choices we make — teardrop tattoo, anybody? — Sun overexposure at the time may sound good but is best fought with prevention of commonsense. Don’t just do it. Whether after a golden tan or just forgetting to apply sunscreen, there’s similar potential for lasting effects. And while you can’t totally undo sun damage, you can take steps to mitigate its negative effects.
What You Need to Know
- Everyone is vulnerable to sun damage, but the fairer your skin, the greater your risks.
- Sun overexposure’s acute effects include inflammation, visible burning, pain, and blistering, and can be treated at home during the days after exposure.
- Sun damage’s long-term effects include dry skin, wrinkles, premature signs of aging, discoloration, and increased skin cancer risk. While these are harder to treat and repair than a sunburn, some options are available.
- The best way to deal with sun damage is to prevent it. Although you may be able to treat visible damage, it is not possible to undo cell damage and cancer risks.
What is Sun Damage?
Two types of UV rays are reaching the earth. The ozone layer blocks a third, UVC.
UVA rays penetrate the skin into the dermis, into its deepest layers. UVB rays have a shorter wavelength and are not passing through the epidermis; they are largely responsible for sunburns. Despite this difference, damage is caused by both UVB and UVA rays and both can lead to mutations, premature aging, and cancer.
People with fair skin are at greatest risk of damage to the sun and its effects. That’s because a pigment called melanin helps to block UV rays. This does not mean that people with olive and darker skin tones are not at risk of sun damage, but that their skin is less sensitive to the powers of the sun and lower risks.
Treating Acute Sun Damage
If you’re unfortunate enough to end up with a sunburn, whether deliberately or out of sheer stupidity, you’re sure to regret it in a matter of hours. Just know that an acute burn’s effects aren’t short-term. You have caused lasting damage.
Nevertheless, in order to minimize your suffering, here are some tips to manage your bad decision:
- Get out of the sun. If you have any clue that you’re burning, remove the burning thing.
- Refresh your skin. This can be done with a cool shower or bath, or with cool, wet cloth compresses.
- Reduce swelling. A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen can help ease your discomfort if the pain is intense.
- Keep your skin hydrated. Gels with aloe vera are a great option for cooling and moisturizing the skin that has been sunburned. Reapply them often.
- Drink water. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunburned skin essentially sucks the fluids from your body to the skin surface in a kind of emergency response. By drinking plenty of water, prevent dehydration.
- Naturally let blisters heal. If your skin blisters, treat it carefully and do not remove your dead skin manually.
These steps can help you feel better, and a sunburn’s short-term effects may disappear within a week, but the damage you’ve done isn’t as fleeting as it seems.
Treating Sun Damage Long-Term
If you are an adult, you probably have some sun damage. Even children do — freckles are a sign of telling the story. Such damage appears to be old in those of us over the age of 20. Age spots (larger, not-as-sightly freckles), wrinkles, thickening skin, etc. are all signs of irreparable damage to the sun.
So, what can we do about lasting damage?
- Exfoliate. Assuming you don’t have a sunburn, even your skin tone can be removed from dead skin cells and your face looks smoother. In order to achieve this, you don’t need a sandblaster or abrasive cleaners— a clean washcloth used every day will do the trick.
- Moisturize. Secure skin appears older. With a high-quality moisturizer, keeping your skin hydrated can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Look specifically for oil-free and non-comedogenic products if you have oily skin.
- Eat well. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there is some evidence that a vitamin-rich diet may reduce UV skin damage.
- Repair. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, topical retinoids are the “gold standard” for repairing sun damage. According to the organization, they work by increasing the production of collagen and cell regeneration. They are also supported by a substantial amount of research. One particular retinoid (tretinoin), has been shown to lessen hyperpigmentation (dark spots), wrinkling, and roughness, according to the newspaper Clinical Interventions in Aging.
The best way to handle sun damage is not to get it in the first place. Because even if you can lighten your dark spots and heal your most recent damage, you can’t undo the increased risk of skin cancer that has resulted in sun damage. The damage is done, but to prevent future damage, you can make an effort.
- Wear daily sunscreen. Using at least one SPF 30 moisturizer makes this step easy.
- Minimize exposure to the sun. Limit the time you spend in it if the UV index is moderate to high (5 or higher). In most weather applications, you can find the UV index.
- Wear more clothing. Wear a hat and consider UV-protective clothing if you need to be out in the sun.
- Do not tan. Look into spray tans if you “need” a golden glow. They deliver the color without the risk of skin cancer and skin damage from the sun.