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Most of us have had a lot of sun exposure over the years, either recreationally, occupationally or just here and there.  The sun powers all life on Earth, warms us, lets us see where we are going and cheers us up when we are down. Those are good things.  And a lot of fun activities are based outdoors, in the sun. But, like many fun activities, sooner or later there is a price to pay. With chronic sun exposure the price is premature aging, spots, wrinkles, sagging, rough skin, growths, pre-cancer and skin cancer.

There is a reason that human skin color is darker the closer the ancestral lands are to the equator—melanin is a barrier protecting against absorbing the sun’s energy which will damage cellular DNA when the energy is absorbed. People further from the equator had less need for this protection and needed to be able to produce enough vitamin D through sun exposure in parts of the world where the sun was much less intense, for instance northern Europe. Some people’s skin is naturally more sensitive to daily sun exposure, especially redheads (who have a less functional kind of melanin) and those of Celtic backgrounds. The trouble comes when you take a person whose skin is adapted for northern Europe, say Ireland or Scotland, and move them to the sunny southwestern U.S. where native skin has a lot of pigment as protection. As I tell my patients “your skin should have stayed in Ireland”.

We all have our natural level of pigment; our natural skin color at baseline. But when your skin darkens from the sun, that is in response to injury. Your skin will try to protect you the best it can. It is just that sometimes its best is not very good. And in absorbing the energy it is damaged. It’s all a matter of how much.

  • The absorbed energy damages elastic and collagen fibers causing sagging, loss of elasticity and wrinkles.
  • The broken elastic fibers give a yellowish bumpy surface called elastosis.
  • The walls of tiny blood vessels are damaged causing broken and abnormal new veins and redness.
  • The outer layer of skin, the epidermis, gets thickened and rough as damaged cells grow in a less orderly fashion.
  • Pores get larger as the elastic fibers holding them closed are broken.
  • Normal cell turnover is reduced, leading to dull skin.
  • Irregular brown pigment and growths develop.
  • The rough areas get worse as the degree of pre-cancerous changes advance.
  • In some areas the cellular DNA may be damaged enough to develop into skin cancer.

Sounds delightful doesn’t it? And we have to deal with the fact that there is many years lag period between when we had the fun and when we pay the piper. I have many patients who have started to moderate their sun exposure when they start to see the damage but are dismayed that they continue to see new problems crop up. However, the very first step when we are in a hole is to stop digging. So read my previous post “Quit complaining and wear your damn sunscreen” . And put down the shovel.

Yes, it was fun; now the bill is due. So how are we going pay that bill?

Next time—Anti-Aging Skin Rejuvenation Plan Step #1—Repair Sun Damage

  • Skin Care
  • Prescription Retinoids
  • Chemical Peels
  • Lesion Destruction
  • SilkPeel
  • GentleWaves LED
  • IPL
  • Fraxel


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