Most people are now aware that spending too much time in the sun or tanning bed could do a lot of harm to their skin. Excess UV damage is widely recognized as the leading risk factor in skin cancer. More of us are taking better precautions with our skin, but we may fall short when we fail to recognize the various signs of sun damage. Here, we discuss some of the common ways that sun damage shows up on the skin so you better equipped to manage them if you see them on yours.
Sunburn is probably the most well-known type of sun damage. It is what we try to avoid by wearing sunscreen and tailoring our time outdoors to happen when the sun isn’t quite so bright and intense. If we stay in the sun long enough for our skin to turn noticeably red, we know we’ve done some damage. If redness paves the way to blisters and peeling, the damage that has occurred in secondary layers of the dermis could show up again many years later in the form of spots and even skin cancer.
The dermatologist’s stance on suntanning is that there is no such thing as a safe tan. The very reason the skin turns that golden brown we have been taught to observe as beautiful is because the skin is reacting to UV damage by producing more melanin to protect itself. Both UVA and UVB light can cause a suntan, which means each is also a contributing factor in premature aging and skin cancer risk.
We used to call them “age spots” or “liver spots,” but, really, those brown and grey patches that develop on aging skin are nothing more than the effects of sunlight. Even when we don’t actively tan, UV exposure without sunscreen causes melanin to build up beneath the surface of the skin. At some point, clumps of melanin reach the epidermis, where they may be impossible to hide.
A spot on the skin that feels rough or scaly is a spot that your dermatologist needs to examine. This type of sun damage is called actinic keratosis; it is an indication of abnormal cell growth on the skin that could precede skin cancer. Like early stage skin cancers, actinic keratosis is easy to treat. Even better, when this type of sun damage is treated, skin cancer can be prevented in that part of the skin.