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What is sun damage?
Sun damage occurs when the UV energy in the sun rays hits and transfers to a surface. When referring to the skin, the term “sun damage” indicates the permanent changes to skin structure brought on by UV energy.
This very same energy is paradoxically necessary and useful for the skin at times. Sunlight energy helps the skin to metabolically complete the formation of active forms of vitamin D, which is required to keep your bones strong and healthy.
UV energy delivered in small incremental doses also causes increased production of melanin pigment in the skin, which is characterized by the development of suntan coloration. This reaction protects the skin from excessive and harmful future doses of sunlight.
But just as mechanical energy can be transferred to something else such as striking a surface with a baseball bat to cause dents or damage, excessive sunlight UV energy can also cause permanent skin damage.
From a medical or skincare perspective, “sun damage” usually refers to the effects of sun exposure to the skin’s appearance over a lifetime.
What are the symptoms of sun damage?
The many signs of sun damage include those that are visible to the eye as well as some effects of actual damage to the internal skin structure that can only be seen through a microscope.
Externally, the skin gradually shows the appearance of aging. The multiple signs of damage include skin laxity (stretching out of the skin), especially in the facial and neck areas, as these parts are usually not covered by clothing and get more lifetime exposure.
Along with the laxity, wrinkles begin to appear. They vary from fine lines to deep wrinkles, especially in areas of facial expression.
Additionally, irregular melanin pigmentation, localized darker pigmented areas called sunspots, and precancerous rough, flaky surfaces appear.
What causes sun damage?
As the name implies, sun damage is related to the cumulative exposure to UV energy released from the sun. Every time that skin gets excessively exposed to solar energy, it undergoes some permanent change.
The effect of damage is mostly on the proteins that manage the operation of cells and life metabolism. These molecules not only enable the skin to repair itself but are also intimately involved in the production of new cells and materials necessary for cell life.
Thus, the damage comes not simply from the energy “cooking” the skin. When UV energy enters the skin, there is undoubtedly some direct damage to DNA and other proteins that relate to the cellular repair of the organism.
A possibly more common cause of cumulative sun damage over a lifetime is the development of free radicals by the UV energy when it comes in contact with intracellular water.
These free radicals, by definition, are charged chemical particles that are unstable and subsequently give off damaging energy to other healthy structural molecules such as collagen, elastin, DNA, and chromosomes.
These molecules are the templates for the creation of new cells. When they become permanently damaged, the alterations cause subsequent malfunction of the new cells.
Collagen is a structural protein that gives skin both strength and thickness. New collagen that is formed from damaged templates will not be strong enough to prevent stretching. The skin matrix of collagen will be so emaciated that the skin will inadvertently get thinner with continued collagen damage. The result is skin laxity.
Elastin is yet another protein that is responsible for your skin’s elasticity. Elasticity is the property that allows the skin to resume its original dimension after being stretched/pulled out.
When your skin’s elastin becomes damaged, the effect is similar to a rubber band that has been around a large roll of paper for several years and is now removed. It has effectively “lost” its power to return to its unstretched length!
What is hyperpigmentation?
Hyperpigmentation is a common condition characterized by darker patches of skin or healthy skin surrounded by more darkly pigmented skin. This condition can be associated with sun damage.
However, hyperpigmentation can also result from other causes. These could include hormonal imbalances from diseases such as Addison’s disease, a pigment condition called melasma that often occurs during pregnancy, taking birth control pills, or receiving hormone replacement therapy.
Another type of hyperpigmentation called “post-traumatic hyperpigmentation” occurs in the wake of a skin injury such as abrasion, burns, and reactions to chemical peels and laser treatments.
Can sun-damaged skin be reversed?
The sun-damaged skin cannot be “reversed” in terms of reversing the chemical damage to each molecule and cell. However, medical science has come a very long way in learning how to undo the damage to body tissues and even complete organs!
All human tissues and especially cells in organs such as the skin are continually removing damaged cells by a process called apoptosis.
In this process, the cell acknowledges that it is time to die and then kills itself! It is estimated that a cell only allows 50 cell divisions before it kills itself out.
Each day between 20 and 30 billion cells die in the human body! To replace these cells, it requires about 50-70 billion new cell divisions from other cells.
Peptides are short (12-15 amino acids) protein chains of amino acids that act as on/off switches for chemical reactions in the body. Nearly every chemical reaction utilizes a special peptide, such as growth factors and immune response communicators.
Modern science can now provide synthetic peptides and actual growth factors from a culture medium/broth of healthy skin. These can be put into medical-grade topical skin care products to promote new growth of skin cell types and collagen and, in effect, “rebuild” damaged skin.
It is estimated that 80% of the damage to skin that causes an aging appearance is from this unavoidable UV exposure!