Sun Damage

Cutaneous ageing signs of sun damaged skin become visible from as early as the twenties, especially with excessive sun or environmental exposure.

Cutaneous ageing signs of sun damaged skin become visible from as early as the twenties, especially with excessive sun or environmental exposure. However between the ages of 35 to 49 years there is a sharp increase in prevalence of skin changes clearly ascribable to photo-ageing such as pigmented spots and sun damaged skin. Awareness of the damaging effect of UV radiation on the facial appearance and sun avoidance and protection before the age of twenty will help reduce the risks for developing sun damaged skin later in life.

Ageing skin and sun damaged skin unsettles women more than men; because society believes a woman loses her attractiveness once visible signs of facial ageing set in. Characteristics of facial sun damaged skin include fine and coarse wrinkle formation, pigmentation changes, sallow colour, dry texture, loss of elasticity, loss of skin tone, sagging subcutaneous tissues, underlying muscle hypertrophy and volume loss in the face.

Sun damaged skin is associated with a range of cosmetic concerns - from pigmentation problems and splotchy skin to redness due to enlarged vessels or capillaries, all causing discolouration of the skin. Photo ageing caused by ultraviolet light exposure, tends to act more on the surface of the skin. There are sun freckles or irregular pigmentation and dilated blood vessels (often referred to as "broken" blood vessels) that lead to an overall uneven tone and discolouration.

How does sun exposure age our skin?

Without protection from the sun's rays, just a few minutes of exposure each day over the years can cause noticeable changes to the skin. Freckles, age spots, spider veins on the face, rough and leathery skin, fine wrinkles that disappear when stretched, loose skin, a blotchy complexion, actinic keratoses (thick wart-like, rough, reddish patches of skin), and skin cancer can all be traced to sun exposure.

The skin ages when the epidermis (outer layer of the skin) begins to thin, causing the junction with the dermis (outer layer) to flatten. Sun damaged skin has a thicker epidermis, which is "dead" and irregular. There is increased water loss from the skin and a decrease of the sebaceous glands, which provides natural moisture to the skin. More abnormal cells accumulate in aged skin, especially if there is chronic sun damage, which can lead to pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions.

Scientific studies have shown that repeated ultraviolet (UV) exposure breaks down collagen and impairs the synthesis of new collagen. The sun also attacks our elastin. Sun damaged skin also causes chronic inflammation of the skin and an increase of elastin that clusters into thick bundles called solar elastosis. Collagen decreases as we age and the bundles of collagen, which gives the skin turgor, become looser and lose strength.

People with fair skin who have a history of sun exposure develop more signs of sun damage than those with dark skin .In people of colour, the signs of sun damage are usually limited to fine wrinkles, a mottled complexion and sagging of the mid-face leading to under eye bags.

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