You're looking forward to spending some time in the sun this summer. While there are health benefits to the sun, such as the production of vitamin D, there are serious dangers to overexposure. Here is how your skin really reacts to the sun and how you can prevent skin damage.
What You Can't See Hurts You
Sunlight is composed of light in the visible spectrum and three types of light that you can't see. These are ultraviolet (UV) light waves and are responsible for damage to your skin. These UV waves are classified as:
- Ultraviolet A (UVA) - These UV waves pass through clouds, glass and light clothing and strike the Earth year round. These are the majority of the UV waves that hit your skin.
- Ultraviolet B (UVB) - These UV waves are mostly present in the summer months. They are easily blocked by clothing and glass.
- Ultraviolet C (UVC) - Most of these UV waves are blocked by the atmosphere so you get very few hitting your skin.
Your Skin and Ultraviolet Waves
Your skin responds to exposure to ultraviolet waves by producing melanin. This is a dark pigment designed to block harmful UV waves from entering deep within the skin. What you admire as a golden tan is actually your skin becoming darker by the melanin it produces to protect itself from UV waves.
There is a limit to the amount of melanin that your skin can produce. When it has exhausted it's supply, UV waves can reach deep into the tissues under the skin. UVB waves affect only the outermost layer of your skin. These waves are responsible for sunburns and superficial skin cancers. UVA waves penetrate the skin and go deep to damage skin cells. These waves create cancerous cells deep within the skin layers.
How Sun Screen Lotion Helps and Hurts
In spite of the availability of sun screen in various formulations, many people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. This is often because people don't understand how these lotions actually work.
Sun screens work by limiting the amount of UV waves that penetrate the skin for a period of time. The sun protection factor, or SPF, on a lotion indicates how long you can stay in the sun without damage. The higher the SPF, the longer you can stay in the sun without your skin burning and turning red. After the period of time noted on the lotion, the protection goes away and your skin is left vulnerable to UV waves. To be effective, sun screen must be applied to all exposed places on your body at intervals specified by the manufacturer. When these instructions aren't followed, your skin is subject to UV wave damage. The lotion must also indicate that it is effective against UVA and UVB waves.
Symptoms of Sun Damage
Overexposure to UVB waves results in:
- bright red patches on the skin that turn dry over the next few days
- wrinkles in the skin from repeated exposure
Overexposure to UVA waves results in:
- brown patches under the skin
- broken blood vessels and bruising under the skin
- hard patches of tissue under the skin
Sun Damage Repair
Depending on the extent of the damage, some of the treatments used for sun damage repair include:
- Applying gels to the skin and covering the area with a bandage to re-hydrate the skin.
- Surgical removal of suspicious skin lesions and tumors.
- Surgical removal of damaged skin to allow new skin cells to form.
- Skin grafts to replace severely damaged skin.
- Radiation therapy to target skin cancers deep in the skin.
Preventing skin damage by the proper use of sun screen is easier than going through treatment to repair damaged skin. Pay close attention to the manufacturer's instructions for using the sun screen. Make sure any product you use blocks UVA and UVB waves. At he first sign of a sunburn, get out of the sun and protect that area of your body from further exposure until the redness goes away.