There’s no question that sunlight is beautiful. Whether it’s a glorious sunset or the feeling of warm sunshine on your shoulders, it’s one of life’s joys.
But the sun isn’t just giving us the life-giving light that you see. There are rays beyond the visible spectrum, and some of them do serious damage. Here’s what you need to know about UV radiation, what it does to the skin, and what you can do about it.
The sun’s rays are made up of different wavelengths of energy. The wavelengths that create visible light can be seen in the rainbow. The red light is the longest wavelength, and as they get smaller they make the rest of the colors. The final, smallest wavelength of visible light is violet light, but the spectrum doesn’t end there. Beyond the violet end of the rainbow is energy you can’t see, known as ultraviolet, or UV radiation.
As pretty as the color violet is, what UV radiation does is not so pretty. This wavelength is considered to be a “complete carcinogen,” because it both causes mutations in DNA and creates damage that encourages the growth of tumors. In other words, UV radiation can give you skin cancer and also make it easier for that cancer to flourish.
Not everyone will end up with skin cancer, but all of us experience sun damage to the skin. The same rays that play havoc with our skin’s DNA also make the skin look older. In fact, experts estimate that 80% of visible aging is caused by sun exposure. To understand how to fight that, we have to know more about UV radiation and what it does.
There are technically three types of UV radiation, but one of them, known as UVC, never makes it through the Earth’s atmosphere. The ones we have to worry about are UVA and UVB.
UVA penetrates the most deeply, affecting all layers of the skin. It damages capillaries, collagen, elastin fiber, epidermal cells, and more. The injury it causes to these important structures is called photoaging, and it’s difficult to repair. UVA also damages DNA, but not as much as UVB does.
UVB has slightly more energy than UVA, and it’s responsible for sunburns. It contributes to photoaging as well, but the biggest danger with UVB is the damage it causes to DNA, which can lead to skin cancer.
The most serious form of UV damage is skin cancer. If you notice a new mole, or unusual growth of an existing mole, a lesion with irregular borders, or a mole that bleeds, see a dermatologist right away. Catching skin cancer early gives you the best chance to beat it.
Other forms of sun damage are more common. Known as photoaging, they include wrangles, sagging skin, coarse texture, brown spots, broken capillaries, and a loss of firmness. But although everyone experiences photoaging, it doesn’t mean you’re helpless against it. There are ways to fight back.
Skincare is your first line of defense against photoaging. It takes time and dedication to see results, but here are some things you can do to protect your skin.
If you’re not wearing sunscreen every day, you’re fighting a losing battle. Pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. If it says on the label that it’s broad-spectrum, you’ll know that it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.
Sunscreen technology has improved a lot recently. If you’re concerned about it feeling sticky, greasy, or having a strong scent, try one of the newer formulas. The best sunscreen for you is one you will use regularly.
The very best topical treatment for photoaging is vitamin A derivatives known as retinoids, such as prescription tretinoin. You can get an over-the-counter version, known as retinol. The prescription-strength is the most effective, but it can cause irritation, so work your way up slowly to a full dose. Over-the-counter retinol is less likely to cause irritation, but it takes much longer to work.
Skincare products offer a dizzying array of active ingredients, so it can be hard to know which ones are best for you. Here are some of the best options to combat UV damage.
Home care is important, but it takes time to see results. In-office procedures can get you faster results, and they’re more powerful than anything you can do at home.
Sun damage can make your skin older before its time, but we can help you fight back. If you’re interested in hearing more about what we can do for you, schedule a consultation with SpaMD today.