Thursday, June 4, 2009


The Dark Side of Sun Exposure

Over 80% of the signs of skin aging in adults result from their tans as teens.

Basking in the warm glow of the sun can make us feel good, and in the short term, makes us look good. But the cumulative effects of sun exposure put us at higher risk of cellular damage, early wrinkling, age spots, actinic keratoses, and skin cancer -- including melanoma, the most serious type. Can you spot the effects of excessive sun exposure?


A suntan is the body’s way of blocking UV rays to prevent further skin damage.

Tanned skin may be revered as beautiful, but that golden color you see is the result of injury to the epidermis, the top layer of skin. Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays accelerates the effects of aging and increases your risk for developing skin cancer. To prevent sun damage, use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher when outdoors. If you have fair skin or burn easily, boost your SPF to 30 or higher.

Sunburn (First-Degree Burns)

Ouch! Redness and mild pain are characteristic of sunburn.

Sunburn is skin damage from the sun's UV rays. Most sunburns result in redness, heat to the touch, and mild pain, affecting only the outer layer of skin (first degree burns). Sunburn usually appears within hours after sun exposure and may take several days to weeks to fade. Pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen, cold compresses, and aloe, hydrocortisone, or moisturizing creams may help reduce pain and discomfort.

Sunburn (Second Degree)

Blisters create a protective layer over the skin.

A second degree burn – damaging deep skin layers and nerve endings – is usually more painful and takes longer to heal. It’s characterized by redness, swelling, and blistering. If blisters form, do not break them – they’re a source of moisture and protection. Breaking the blisters may lead to infection. Consider seeing a doctor if you have a blistered sunburn.


Wrinkles are common on the face, neck, and hands – areas most exposed to sun.

The sun’s rays make skin look old and wrinkled years before it should. More than 80% of the signs of skin aging in adults are the result of the tans they had as teens before the age of 18. That’s because over time, the sun's ultraviolet light damages the fibers in the skin called elastin. When these fibers breakdown, the skin begins to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to go back into place after stretching.

Uneven Skin Tone

Changes brought on by sun damage include uneven pigmentation of the skin.

Too much sun also causes irregular coloring or pigmentation of the skin. Some areas of the skin appear darker, while others look lighter. The sun can also cause a permanent stretching of small blood vessels, giving your skin a reddish appearance.


Freckles are commonly found on the face and shoulders.

Flat, pigmented spots on the skin, freckles are usually found on sun-exposed areas of the body. They’re more noticeable in the summer, especially among fair-skinned people and those with light or red hair. Freckles pose no health risk. But some cancers in the earliest stages resemble a freckle. See a doctor if the size, shape, or color of a spot changes or becomes painful.

Melasma (Pregnancy Mask)

Exposure to sunlight can worsen melasma.

Melasma (or chloasma) is characterized by tan or brown patches on the cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin. Although usually called the "pregnancy mask," men can also develop it. Melasma may go away after pregnancy. If it persists, melasma can be treated with prescription creams and over-the-counter products. Use a sunscreen at all times if you have melasma, as sunlight worsens the condition.

Age Spots (Solar Lentigines)

Sun avoidance and the use of sunscreen are key in preventing “age” spots

These pesky brown or gray spots are not really caused by aging, though they do multiply as you get older. Age spots are the result of sun exposure, which is why they tend to appear on areas that get a lot of sun, such as the face, hands, and chest. Bleaching creams, acid peels, and light-based treatments may lessen their appearance. Solar lentigines are harmless, but to rule out serious skin conditions such as melanoma, see a dermatologist for proper identification.

Actinic Keratosis (Solar Keratosis)

Actinic keratoses range in size from 1 to 3 mm or larger and may itch or burn.

The small, scaly red, brown, or skin-colored patches caused by too much sun exposure commonly occur on the head, neck or hands, but can be found elsewhere on the body. They’re the early beginnings of skin cancer. Actinic keratosis usually appears on people after age 40, but they can show up in much younger people. People with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue or green eyes are most at risk. Early treatment is advised to stop the possible progression to squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.

Actinic Cheilitis (Farmer’s Lip)

Actinic cheilitis is more common in older males and light -complected people.

Related to actinic keratosis, actinic cheilitis is a precancerous condition that usually appears on the lower lips. Scaly patches or persistent dryness and cracking of the lips may be present. Less common symptoms include swelling of the lip, loss of the sharp border between the lip and skin, and prominent lip lines. Actinic cheilitis may eventually evolve into invasive squamous cell carcinoma if not treated.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma affects men more often than women.

This nonmelanoma skin cancer may appear as a firm red nodule, a scaly growth that bleeds or develops a crust, or a sore that doesn’t heal. It most often occurs on the nose, forehead, ears, lower lip, hands, and other sun-exposed areas of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma is curable if caught and treated early. If the skin cancer becomes more advanced, treatment will depend on the stage of cancer.

Bowen Disease

Bowen disease is the earliest form of squamous cell skin cancer.

Bowen disease is also called squamous cell carcinoma “in situ.” It is a typeof skin cancer that spreads outward on the surface of the skin. By contrast, “invasive” squamous cell carcinomas can grow inward and spread to the interior of the body. Bowen disease looks like scaly, reddish patches that may be crusted. It may turn into squamous cell carcinoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell tumors can take on many forms.

The most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma is the most easily treatable and least likely to spread, though it can damage surrounding tissue. Because basal cell carcinoma spreads slowly it occurs mostly in adults. Basal cell tumors can take on many forms, including a pearly white or waxy bump, often with visible blood vessels, on the ears, neck, or face. Tumors can also appear as a flat, scaly, flesh-colored or brown patch on the back or chest, or more rarely, a white, waxy scar.


Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that usually begins in a mole. It is not as common as other types of skin cancer, but it’s the most serious and potentially deadly. Possible signs of melanoma include a change in the appearance of a mole or pigmented area. Consult a doctor if a mole changes in size, shape, or color, has irregular edges, is more than one color, is asymmetrical, or itches, oozes, or bleeds. Melanoma can affect the skin only, or it may spread to organs and bones. It can be cured if it’s found and treated early.


Exposure to sunlight as well as aging can cause cataracts.

A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of the eye that blocks the passage of light to the retina. Cataracts are painless but may cause vision problems, including foggy vision, glare from light, and double vision in one eye. Prevent cataracts by wearing a hat and sunglasses when in the sun.

Shun the Sun

Sunburns in childhood are the most damaging to the skin.

The best way to prevent sunburn, premature wrinkles, skin cancer, and other damaging effects from the sun is to stay out of it, especially between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. If you can’t, apply sunscreen liberally (don’t forget the lips and ears!), wear a hat and sunglasses, and cover up with clothing when outdoors. If you notice changes to your skin such as a mole changing appearance, a new growth, or a sore that won't heal, see a doctor right way.


Tabitha Michelle said...

Definitely using sunblock this summer! Good job! Love ya.

Gena said...

Love you to! Thanks!

Isn't she darling? My oldest niece. The first born!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

This is a hard one for me, Gena... I have been exposed to the sun for years and years. As I get older, I am more aware of the damage it can cause.. So--I do wear sunscreen now to prevent burns. I don't think I have ever been blistered--but my skin is not that fair...

I always loved being tanned in the summer. Guess those days are over!!! ha


Just_Aimee said...

Thanks for the very informative post...I have a 'spot' I need to have a dermatologist check out...kind of matches one you have pictured.

Happy VGNO...Hope you have a great weekend.

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