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Sun Damage: A Major Cause of Wrinkling and Premature Aging

Most of us love the warmth of the sun, but over exposure can cause significant damage to our skin. The sun's ultraviolet rays (UV) can cause our skin to dry out and lose essential oils and decades of tanning, burning and over exposure to the sun may cause changes in our skin's structure.

Unprotected skin exposed to the sun can gradually lose essential oils, making it dry, flaky and prematurely wrinkled. Repeated episodes of sunburn, although they appear to heal on the surface, can lead to permanent skin damage over time.

Excessive over exposure to the sun can cause changes in the skin's collagen called photoaging. These changes can take the form of wrinkles and fine lines, decreased skin elasticity (sagging skin), or a thickened skin textured. UV radiation can damage the collagen that supports the walls of the skin's blood vessels, causing them to be more fragile. A symptom of this is easy bruising on sun-exposed areas such as the back of hands.

Over the years, repeated sunburns and unprotected exposure to the sun can increase the risk of skin cancers including basal cell and malignant melanoma and other types of skin cancers..

Prevention is the key to avoiding photoaging and more serious skin damage. Here are some ways you can protect your skin from the harmful UV rays:

ALWAYS apply a sunscreen before you go outdoors, especially to your face, neck and hands. That means 365 days a year, rain, shine or clouds. Choose a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more, with a broad spectrum of protection against both UV-A and UV-B rays.

Use a sunblock on your lips, preferably with an SPF of 20 or above.

Wear sunglasses with UV-A and UV-B light protection.

Wear long pants, a shirt with long sleeves and a hat with a wide brim.

Limit your time outdoors when the sun is at its highest (about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Certain medications such as antibiotics can increase your vulnerability to sunburn. Check with your doctor.

What to do if you think you already have skin damage

Be sure to see your doctor immediately if you have any unusual looking moles or changes in your skin. Don't wait.

You may be able to improve the appearance of moderately sun damaged skin with alpha-hydroxy acids, which remove dead skin cells from the out layers of your skin, leaving it softer and smoother. Chemical peels, laser resurfacing or microdermabrasion may also be helpful.

Valerie Goettsch is webmaster of the site Skin-Sage.com which is dedicated to reviewing anti-aging and anti-wrinkle skin care products and offering tips on having younger looking skin.

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