Managing skin damage from the sun
How does sun exposure affect your skin?
Many of us in the Southern Hemisphere are getting a lot of sun this summer. But what is it doing to your skin? And how it will age your skin twenty years from now?
January 30, 2018
How does the Sun affect my skin?
Sun exposure is responsible for up 90% of the visible changes attributed to aging (WHO report) that we generally consider as a normal part of aging. This process is known as ‘photoaging’.
Signs of Photoaging include:
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Skin dryness
- Skin laxity
- Vascular abnormalities such as spider veins
But there are far more sinister aspects to photoaging than just the appearance aspects.
Melanin and Skin Pigmentation
UV exposure causes skin cells to produce melanin which results in the “beautiful” golden tan, but is essentially the skin trying to protect itself from damage.
Melanin is actually the end byproduct of oxidative stress within the cell. It is the same chemical process as when an apple or banana goes brown, so getting a tan is not healthy, but rather a sign of your skin suffering high levels of oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress caused by UV
As far as prematurely aging your skin, UV causes intense oxidative stress within your skin cells. As well as the DNA in your nucleus being damaged, UV can also result in mitochondrial impairment. Mitochondria are the powerhouse of your cells, their job is to fight free radicals to control the level of oxidation in a cell, and to produce cellular energy. Damage your mitochondria and you have destroyed your cells own antioxidation system and energy supply. This causes an increase in free radicals within the cell combined with a decline in cellular energy production. Left unchecked and this build up of free radicals can also damage the DNA within the mitochondria potentially resulting in skin cancer.
Unfortunately by damaging your cells mitochondria powerhouse you impair energy production, with the long term potential for large scale cellular damage across the body this can cascade into changes in your metabolic state, leading to potential weight gain, diabetes and fatigue. So it is absolutely critical to protect your mitochondria from UV and oxidative stress to avoid potential downstream negative effects.
Can our skin rust?
Nuclear ferritin (iron) in your cells protects your DNA from free radicals, but UV exposure results in the release of ferritin and its oxidation which in turns means that your defence systems are damaged, your iron level is reduced and your DNA is now at risk of being damaged. Although this is the same chemical process as what occurs with metals and rusting, your skin cells do not technically rust, but your cellular iron does oxidise in the same way.
Unfortuantely UV damage does not stop there, it changes the three dimensional structure of vital proteins including collagen, so that they lose their “bounce” and become flattened. This results in wrinkles and thinning of the skin. Nothing will prematurely age you more than UV exposure.
It takes the skin two years to “recover” from a sunburn on the surface, the cellular damage can remain with you for life.
Make sure you use a high SPF sunscreen that meets US standards as these are the highest in the world. In the US every batch of sunscreen must be tested and meet a minimum requirement. Apply regularly and cover up.
Prevention is the best cure
The beauty industry has created a whole lot of “treatments” for when we age such as botox, dermal fillers and laser photobleaching. These beauty treatments only treat the surface, not the damage underneath. The best and cheapest option and most effective way is to use a really good sunscreen and protect your skin in the first place. Combine this prevention with antioxidants for your skin and whole body and give your mitochondria the help they need to function properly. Remember oxidative stress anywhere in your body will show on your skin.
So enjoy the summer sun – but keep your skin protected this summer for a healthy looking skin in the future!
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