– BY FACIAL PLASTIC SURGEON DR. HEATHER LEE
Sun exposure is one of the dominant factors responsible for many of the visible signs of aging. According to the World Health Authority, up to 90% of the visible changes commonly attributed to aging may be caused by sun exposure.
In other words, how young or old you look for your age has a lot to do with how much sun exposure you’ve sustained over the years.
Cumulative sun exposure can cause adverse cosmetic changes but more importantly also increase the risk of developing skin cancers. Cosmetic concerns include changes to skin pigmentation; wrinkling, and loosening or sagging of the skin from alterations to elastin and collagen levels; increased prominence of small blood vessels which can worsen skin redness; and unevenness of skin color and texture. Medical changes include more frequent development of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers, development of innumerable keratoses (bumps and scaly patches on the skin) of various sorts, and often worsening of other dermatologic conditions.
The skin is composed of three layers: the epidermis, or the most superficial layer; the dermis, or middle layer; and the subcutis, or deepest layer. The dermis contains collagen, elastin and other fibers that support the skin. Within the skin’s epidermal layer are cells that contain the pigment melanin. Melanin has a protective effect in that it absorbs ultraviolet rays from the sun that can damage DNA and cause skin cancer and premature aging. The two types of sun radiation are Ultraviolet B (UVB-short waves) and Ultraviolet A (UVA-long waves). UVB rays cause sunburn and are implicated in the development of skin cancers.
Although some people view a tan as a beautiful, healthy glow to the skin, in reality a tan is the result of an injury to the skin as it darkens in an attempt to prevent further DNA damage.
UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, affecting the dermis which causes the long-term changes to this structural support layer of the skin. UVA radiation damages cellular structures, thereby reducing healthy collagen (which gives your skin strength) and accumulating abnormal elastin (which enables your skin to stretch and bounce back). These cellular alterations result in sagging and stretching of the skin and the formation of wrinkles.
Can sun damage be reversed?
Sun damage is treatable, but it can be difficult, time-consuming and costly to remedy years of damage. For those with minor skin damage, experts say that while you can’t entirely undo the cellular changes caused by UV radiation, you can reduce the appearance of wrinkles, sun spots and sagging skin. You can treat pre-cancerous cells before they develop into skin cancers with early detection. Retinoids, a derivative of Vitamin A, can help the color, tone and texture of skin and even out pigmentation to help fade brown spots. They work by encouraging cell turnover and increasing collagen production, both of which help set damaged skin cells on a healthier course. It is found in both over-the-counter formulations and in prescription-strength products like Retin-A.
Skin resurfacing treatments, such as intense pulsed light (IPL) and fractional laser resurfacing treatments, can also be used to correct and improve a variety of skin conditions, including photoaging due to sun damage.
For more advanced sun damage, you may want to consider surgical skin resurfacing through the use of Co2 lasers, chemical peels, or dermabrasion. Lifting procedures such as a facelift, blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) or brow lift can also be used in combination with skin resurfacing to provide more comprehensive rejuvenation by addressing sagging concerns throughout the face while tightening and improving skin texture and treating facial wrinkles. Today’s techniques ensure beautiful, natural-looking results specifically tailored to each patient’s individual aesthetic goals. To ensure optimal results, it is highly recommended you choose a board-certified specialist facial plastic surgeon experienced in your procedure of choice.
Don’t be a statistic. A few quick facts…
- 1 in 5 Americans and 1 in 3 Caucasians will develop skin cancer over the course of a lifetime.
- More than 90% of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure.
- A person’s risk for skin cancer doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns.
Source: skincancer.org/prevention/sunburn (Skin Cancer Foundation)
Prevention is better than cure
Remember, it’s always easier and more beneficial to prevent sun damage than to repair it. Follow these simple steps below to protect your skin from sun exposure.
- Use Sunscreen – Daily sunscreen, no matter the weather, is one of the best things you can do for your skin. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+ for daily use. Reapply often when you’re spending time in the sun, sweating or getting wet.
- Minimize Sun Exposure – The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. During these hours, stay out of the sun or minimize sun exposure if you can. When it comes to your skin’s exposure to the sun, less is better.
- Don’t Tan – Get a summer glow using sunless tanners, not tanning beds.
- Cover Up – Use protective clothing like a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, long sleeves and pants whenever possible. Lightweight layers make it easier to cover-up, even in warmer temperatures.
- Seek Shade – During peak sun hours, stay in the shade whenever possible.
For more information about reversing the signs of aging from sun exposure, call the Quatela Center for Plastic Surgery at 585.244.1000 to speak to a Patient Consultant about the options available.
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