How Sunlight Affects The Aging Of Skin (And What To Do About It)


When it comes to skin aging, sun exposure has to be held responsible for the majority of it. In fact, UV rays alone cause more wrinkles, sun spots, skin elasticity issues and pigmentation than all the other factors put together.

As much as 90% of how old or young you appear to be is down to the amount of sun exposure you’ve had in your lifetime.

The World Health Organization’s Report

This is all borne out by a report from the World Health Organization which was created with the aim of teaching people about the risks to health of UV rays and to show them the best ways of protecting themselves.

In this report, which was named “Sun Protection: A Primary Teaching Resource”, the authors tell the reader all the information they need to know about tanning, sunlight, skin cancer, sunburn, cataracts and eye inflammation and even point out that UV rays even suppress your immune system, putting you at a higher risk of getting ill.

One section of the report also discusses the sun’s aging effects. According to the WHO, chronic sun overexposure can cause changes to the skin’s texture and weaken the skin’s elasticity. Skin damage caused by the sun results in bags, sags and premature wrinkling as well as easier bruising.

Research Into The Effects Of Sun Exposure On Skin

A study was carried out into how much UV and sun exposure is responsible for the signs of premature aging when compared to other factors like pollution, diet, illness, tobacco, stress and gravity.

298 women were split into two separate groups depending on whether they were sun-phobic or sun-seekers. They were then graded on how many wrinkles they had, the texture and firmness of their skin, unevenness of their pigmentation and any vascular disorders present.

The results of the study showed that there was indeed a very strong association between apparent aging and sun exposure in every age group. Wrinkling, poor skin texture and pigmentation disorders were found to be especially strongly linked with UV exposure.

As part of the research, identical twins were compared, one of which had been exposed to ten hours a week more sun than the other. The one who had been exposed to a larger amount of UV rays looked 11.25 years older than her twin. This is clear evidence of the aging effects of the sun.

Damage Is Caused To Every Skin Layer

The study also showed that damage from sun exposure causes damage to five major components of the skin. Cumulatively, this damage is called dermatoheliosis. It involves the blood vessels, epidermis, dermis, melanocytes and sebaceous glands.

This only goes to show just how severe the UV damage can be to every layer of the skin. The consequences aren’t just cosmetic, they’re also medical too.

Cosmetic changes such as increased wrinkling, reddening and leathering of skin is aesthetically unappealing, however the medical changes can be extremely dangerous and even life-threatening, with problems including the development of non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers and keratoses, as well as an increased tendency for the skin to become more easily bruised and irritated. 

Controlling Skin Aging By Reducing Sun Exposure

Whatever skin type you may have, the primary signs of aging include texture damage, wrinkling, lack of elasticity and firmness, sagging, pigmentation such as sunspots and vascular disorders.

Of all the factors involved in aging, such as lifestyle choices like smoking and poor diet, cumulative exposure to the sun isn’t only the most significant, it’s also the factor which is easiest to avoid.

Sun damage on the face has been shown in studies to be a key factor in determining how old someone is. This is because of the wrinkling that it causes. Women who have been exposed to sunlight for longer periods don’t just have more wrinkles, they also have deeper wrinkles, and they therefore look much older than their true age.

Beware Of Exposure Through Windows

Some women find that they have more wrinkles on one side of their face than the other. This is often because they have greater exposure to one side of their body due to sitting beside a glass window.

Women who work at a desk next to a window, for example, may have more damage on that side of their face. This is because UVA rays are able to get through glass, even though UVB rays do not.

This means that many people may be exposed to harmful rays even when they are indoors and believe they are protected.

How To Protect Your Skin From Sun Damage

It has also been shown through research that the skin stem cells are damaged by UV rays from the sun. This leads to premature aging of the skin.

When someone is repeatedly exposed to solar UVR, their skin begins to look older more quickly as the function of the epidermal stem cells becomes progressively impaired.

While enzymatic antioxidants and melanin try to defend the skin from UVR, when the skin is exposed to it regularly, this defense mechanism cannot cope. It’s possible to help reinforce this natural defense, however, by adding antioxidants like vitamins E and C and beta-carotene to the diet. This helps to delay skin photoaging while also protecting from the development of skin cancer.

Of course, the other ways to effectively protect your skin from UV damage is to actively spend less time outdoors, especially during the hottest part of the day.

When you cannot avoid going outdoors, make sure to protect yourself by covering up with a sunhat, sunglasses and long pants and sleeves. You should also make sure to choose a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply it at regular intervals. You should even apply this if you’re staying indoors if you’re going to be exposed to UV light through a window.

This will ensure you have the best level of protection from the sun’s aging rays.


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