Although most people love the warmth and light of the sun, too much sun exposure can significantly damage human skin. There is evidence that sunlight can be good for us, helping the body to make Vitamin D that keeps our bones healthy. But, like many things in life, too much of a good thing can sometimes be harmful. Too much sun can damage the skin, and this may only start to become apparent later in life. The sun’s heat dries out areas of unprotected skin and depletes the skin’s supply of natural lubricating oils. In addition, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause burning and long-term changes in the skin’s structure.
The most common types of sun damage to the skin are:
- Dry skin — Sun-exposed skin can gradually lose moisture and essential oils, making it appear dry, flaky and prematurely wrinkled, even in younger people.
Sunburn — Sunburn is the common name for the skin injury that appears immediately after the skin is exposed to UV radiation. Mild sunburn causes only painful reddening of the skin, but more severe cases can produce tiny fluid-filled bumps (vesicles) or larger blisters.
- Actinic keratosis — This is a tiny bump that feels like sandpaper or a small, scaly patch of sun-damaged skin that has a pink, red, yellow or brownish tint. An actinic keratosis develops in areas of skin that have undergone repeated or long-term exposure to the sun’s UV light, and it is a warning sign of increased risk of skin cancer.
- Long-term changes in the skin’s collagen (a structural protein) — These changes include photoaging (premature aging of the skin because of sun exposure) and actinic purpura (bleeding from fragile blood vessels beneath the skin surface). In photoaging, the skin develops wrinkles and fine lines because of changes in the collagen of a deep layer of the skin called the dermis. In actinic purpura, UV radiation damages the structural collagen that supports the walls of the skin’s tiny blood vessels.