How the Sun Damages Skin for Anti-Aging

Published on 3 November 2023 at 19:09

How the Sun Damages Skin for Anti-Aging

—Jill Fandrich, PharmD, CRPh


The sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause significant damage to the skin, leading to premature aging. This process is commonly referred to as photoaging. Here's how the sun damages the skin and accelerates the aging process:


1. UV radiation - The sun emits two types of harmful UV radiation: UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate the deepest layer of the skin, called the dermis, and contribute to the breakdown of collagen and elastin fibers. UVB rays, on the other hand, primarily affect the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis, by causing sunburns.


2. Collagen degradation - Collagen is a protein that provides structural support and elasticity to the skin. Overexposure to UV radiation triggers the production of enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which break down collagen. As collagen fibers degrade, the skin becomes less firm and begins to sag, leading to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.


3. DNA damage - UV radiation can cause direct damage to the DNA within skin cells. This DNA damage can result in mutations that can disrupt normal cell function and potentially lead to the development of skin cancer. Additionally, DNA damage triggers an inflammatory response, contributing to the breakdown of collagen and elastin.


4. Formation of free radicals - Free radicals are unstable molecules that are produced in the skin due to UV exposure. These molecules cause oxidative stress, damaging skin cells and tissues. Oxidative stress promotes the breakdown of collagen and elastin, contributing to the development of wrinkles, uneven skin texture, and age spots.


5. Weakened skin barrier - Prolonged sun exposure can compromise the skin's protective barrier function. This allows moisture to escape, leading to dryness, roughness, and increased sensitivity. A weakened skin barrier also makes the skin more susceptible to environmental pollutants and irritants.


To protect your skin against the damaging effects of the sun:

1. Use sunscreen - Regularly apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30, even on cloudy days. Reapply every two hours or more frequently if you're sweating or swimming.

2. Seek shade - Limit your time in direct sunlight, especially during peak hours when the sun's rays are strongest (usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).

3. Wear protective clothing - Opt for long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses that provide UV protection to shield your skin from the sun.

4. Avoid tanning beds - Artificial UV radiation from tanning beds can be just as damaging as natural sunlight. It's best to avoid them altogether.


By being vigilant about sun protection, you can minimize the damage caused by UV radiation, reduce premature aging, and maintain healthier, youthful-looking skin.


The sun may illuminate the world, but it holds the power to silently age our skin. Shield yourself from its relentless rays, for beneath its warm embrace hides the potential damage that steals away our youth.

—Dr. Jill

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