What Sun Really Does to Your Skin

March is here and Spring is just around the corner. Our fingers are crossed for  longer days (and a vacation...or two). Incoming warm weather means one thing, uninterrupted sunshine. Hallelujah! We all love basking under the sun’s glorious rays, but we can’t forget to stay protected. The effects of sunlight on skin can cause a whole host of issues, from photoaging to skin cancer. We decided to do a deep dive to investigate what really happens when the sun damages your skin, and how you can protect yourself as we enter the warmer months. 

The sun can cause an alarming amount of damage to your skin on your face and your entire body. In the short term, spending a large amount of time under direct sunlight can cause a nasty sunburn. But, there can be long term damage hiding under your skin after sun exposure, even if you never got a substantial sunburn. This invisible damage that takes years to notice? Skin Aging. 

How the Sun Ages the Skin 

Also known as photoaging, photodamage, solar damage, sun damage occurs when ultraviolet (UV) light hits unprotected skin. This damage causes DNA changes at a molecular level, and happens in the deepest layers of the skin. Because most photodamage happens at the epidermis (the deepest layer of the skin), it can take years for the damage to be visible.

The sun emits 2 types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB:

UVA - A form of solar radiation emitted from the sun that damages skin at all levels. This means from the epidermis (the surface layer) to the dermis (the deepest layer). When UVA rays come into contact with the skin they damage major aspects of your skin’s DNA integrity including collagen & elastin fibers. 
UVB - This radiation affects the outer layer of the skin. But that doesn’t mean it's any less harmful, in fact UVB radiation damages your skin’s DNA more intensely. In addition to causing photoaging, UVB radiation can cause precancerous cells to form.  




Signs of Photoaging

Unfortunately, the effects of sun damage are clearly visible on many people’s faces. But the true damage of sun exposure starts to become more visible as we age and our skin naturally loses elasticity and collagen. The telltale signs of photodamage to look out for are: 

    • Wrinkling

    • Pigmentation changes such as age spots, liver spots (solar lentigines) and freckles

    • Loss of skin tone (decreased elasticity) 

    • Rough, uneven skin texture

    • Broken capillaries (spider veins), usually around the nose and chest

    • Redness and blotchiness

    Let’s Talk Protection

    The good news about sun damage? You can take steps right now to protect yourself and your skin from UVA and UVB light. Wearing a simple sunscreen of at least SPF 30 daily can greatly reduce the effects of sun damage on your skin. See below our recommendations on sunscreen you can add into your daily routine. 

    Dr. Elsa’s favorite sunscreens include:

    1. Elemental Sun Balm SPF 30

    For a minimal composition, this makes a solid choice. While the product may be on the lower end for SPF coverage, it offers a lovely glow and has zinc oxide as its main active ingredient, one of the main factors to look out for in a physical sunscreen.

    2. Cotz Skincare Sensitive SPF 40 Non-Tinted 

    One of Elsa’s favorites for beach and outdoors, this sunscreen has no preservatives or fragrances. It doesn’t leave a white cast and is incredibly easy to apply. Most importantly, it offers broad spectrum protection and is water resistant (40 minutes).

    3. pipette™ Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50

    This final sunscreen is on Dr. Elsa’s wishlist as it is a baby-friendly, reef-friendly sunscreen with incredible SPF coverage. It includes zinc oxide and broad spectrum protection to pro

    4. Eleven by Venus Williams Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35 

    A lightweight facial sun serum that combines sun protection with silky hydration. For daily use over moisturizer or under makeup. Quick absorption leaves skin with a smooth, demi-matte velvety finish.

    Hold Up, How Does Sunscreen Work?

    Dermatologists, Skincare gurus, and mothers alike all swear on the holy grail of sunscreen. Wear it everyday! Without fail! But have you ever wondered what actually happens when you put sunscreen on? How does it work? 

    Within every SPF product there are 2 components, the active ingredients and the emulsion. Basically, the SPF part, and the cream/gel/oil part. 

    The active ingredients do the heavy lifting in a sunscreen and are divided into 2 categories: UV absorbers and UV reflectors. The UV absorbers work by absorbing the UV rays from the sun and converting them into heat, yes, heat! This is why a small portion of people report that wearing sunscreen makes their body feel noticeably hotter. 

    Some absorb the UVB part of the spectrum, which is known to cause sunburn and contribute to skin cancer risk. Others absorb the UVA part of the spectrum. Recent research suggests the longer UVA wavelengths not only penetrate to deeper layers of the skin but contribute to skin cancer through compromising immune response to DNA damage.

    The UV "reflectors" are made up of oxides, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, that absorb and scatter UV radiation.

    There is normally more than one and often up to six or more active ingredients in most sunscreens.

    The gel, cream, mist, however you take your sunscreen is the emulsion part. This part is non active but serves and important role in sunscreen, providing preservation, water resistance, & effects how well the sunscreen binds to the skin. 

    As the days get warmer, please remember to wear sunscreen. Your skin will thank you today and in the long term. Forget vanity and wrinkle prevention, sunscreen can help stop skin cancer and other harmful skin conditions. 


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