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How the sun affects the skin

Essential knowledge to protect yourself

The sun affects the skin both positively and negatively. Through sun exposure we produce D3-vitamin, which is important to our bone and dental health. However, where there is sunlight, there is also ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause skin damage.

The skin automatically adjusts its protection from UV radiation by increasing the level of melanin – that’s why skin becomes tanned when it is exposed to sunlight. The ability to self-protect depends on your skin type. 

Read more about different skin types and the risk of Solar Keratoses here

UV radiation and the skin

Since all sunlight contains UV radiation, even everyday exposure to sunlight, working outside, playing sports outside or mowing the lawn in your garden, can potentially cause damage to your skin.
Geographical location, altitude and cloud coverage can all influence the level of UV radiation.  Even in cool environments and/or in cloudy weather the UV radiation can be intense. Reflections from water, snow and sand can also increase the UV radiation.

You can also experience UV radiation and, therefore skin damage, from artificial sources like sun beds. In fact, some sun beds can increase UV radiation significantly.

The level of UV radiation is measured through the UV index. Most weather forecasts include information about daily UV levels. 

You can learn more about how to actively use the UV index here.

Signs of skin damage

The effects of sun damage on your skin and overall health can vary depending on the level of sun exposure you have had, your skin type, your age and a variety of other factors. 

The most common effects of sun damage include:

• Premature ageing of the skin: Field damage caused by the sun results in the development of fine lines and wrinkles, discolouration and textural changes. These damages can make your skin look prematurely aged and visibly damaged.

• Solar Keratoses:  Solar Keratoses are common skin lesions induced by accumulated UV-exposure.  The damage usually appears as  skin lesions that vary in size – from as small as 2 millimetres to up to 20 millimetres across – and can be scaly or warty in their appearance. The colour of skin spots varies too, from a barely noticeable skin colour to a more obvious red. If untreated solar keratoses may develop into skin cancer.

• Skin Cancer: Skin cancer is also related to sun damage and to solar keratoses. It can develop as a reaction to long-term exposure to the sun’s UV rays. When unprotected skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays, changes take place in the structure of your skin’s cells. The damage reduces the skin’s ability  to repair itself.

Damage caused by the sun may not be visible on your skin until many years after the initial damage occurred. This is because damages usually are an outcome of long term, chronic, UV exposure. As a result, it is important to get to know your own skin so you can learn to identify possible areas of sun damage and bring them to the attention of your doctor as early as possible.

Check your skin

Tell the signs of sun damaged skin

It can take years to develop Solar Keratoses. If left untreated Solar Keratoses can develop into non melanoma skin cancer. By checking your skin regularly you can detect any skin damage early. 

Click here for more information on how to check your skin.