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Sun-Damaged Skin - Is a Tan Worth it?

sun screen for sun damage

Have you noticed fine lines or wrinkles starting to form on your face perhaps a little earlier than you expected? What about your decolletage - is it beginning to develop that crepey texture? And have liver spots started to appear on your hands, cheeks or other parts of your face and body? 

For many of us, sunburn in our earlier days may have led to a glorious golden tan at the time. However, down the track, the picture is nowhere near as healthy. Whilst those tell-tale physical signs mentioned above suggest your skin has been exposed to too many UV rays, premature ageing is only one of the myriad outcomes of sunburn. 

According to Cancer Research Org, approximately six people in the UK die from burn-related skin cancers

Every. Single. Day. 

So, let’s look at sunburn and better understand the telltale signs of sun-damaged skin, how to avoid further damage, and whether or not we can turn back the clock…

What does sun-damaged skin look like?

Sun-damaged skin at the time of burning will exhibit in any/all of the following: 

  • Red 
  • Blotchy 
  • Inflamed 
  • Blistering 
  • Peeling 
  • Tanning 

Over time, sun-damaged skin may present as:

  • Freckles 
  • Premature lines and wrinkles 
  • Sunspots 
  • Moles 
  • Skin cancer 

sun damaged skin symptoms

What are sunspots and where do they appear? 

Also known as liver spots, which is misleading given they have nothing to do with that organ, sunspots are flat brown splotches or marks that appear on sun-damaged skin. These are permanent signs of damage and, whilst they won’t naturally disappear, over time they may fade somewhat. Sunspots can be found on the face, hands, chest - areas most commonly burned by the sun. 

What happens to skin that is burned by the sun? 

Well, this is perhaps the first problem, in that ‘sun’ is a little misleading. It is, in fact, ultraviolet (UV) rays that burn our skin. As a result, it doesn’t have to even be a sunny day for us to burn. Interestingly, the damage to skin depends on the type of UV ray exposure. 

When UV rays damage the skin, they cause cell DNA to mutate. The body detects a threat and responds the same way it does for any danger - it sends immune cells to protect the affected area. So, along with the damage caused by the UV rays, sun-damaged skin typically inflames and reddens; a sure sign the immune system has kicked in. 

The good news is that in time, the burns heal, although that stage might come after a lot of discomfort, blistering and peeling. The bad news is that some surviving cells will have likely escaped repair and are now defected or mutated. These mutated cells may ultimately one day (and that day could be years, even decades later) become cancerous. Indeed, any sunburn causing blisters can make skin particularly vulnerable to melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

ultraviolet rays and skin damage

What are UVA rays and how do they cause sun-damaged skin?

Simply put, Ultraviolet A rays are typically associated with skin ageing - think A for Ageing.

Able to penetrate cloud cover and windows, UVA rays have a longer wavelength and are approximately 500 more times present in sunlight than UVB rays. Although UVA rays can be associated with forming some cancer, they wreak particular havoc on the visual appearance of our skin. UVA rays can penetrate below the dermis of the skin, damaging collagen fibres and cause premature wrinkling, known in this context as photoaging. 

What are UVB rays, and how do they cause sun-damaged skin? 

Simply put, Ultraviolet B rays are associated with skin burning - think B for Burning.

UVB rays have a shorter wavelength than UVAs and cause the most damage to the skin’s outer layers. UVB rays have the ability to cause cellular DNA mutations, which increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer, including melanoma, later in life. 

How does UV damage affect our collagen? 

Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies. It is critical for the integrity and maintenance of everything from our gut lining and muscles to our joints, hair nails and - you guessed it - our skin. We naturally produce collagen right up to our early twenties, and we have this “protein of youth” to thank for a fresh-faced appearance. Many influences affect not only our level of collagen but also its quality. 

Surprise, surprise, the sun is a big factor. 

Learn more about collagen here.

We’ve already established that the long-wavelength UVA rays penetrate deep below the skin’s surface. This penetration damages the collagen fibres, and the body responds by creating higher than normal levels of elastin, almost as if over-compensating. This process triggers the production of enzymes known as metalloproteinases. The role of these enzymes is to rebuild the damaged collagen. Unfortunately, however, it’s sometimes a case of best intentions going awry. The metalloproteinases can do a fairly botched job of rebuilding, resulting in wrinkled skin or, worse still, that deeply ‘leathered’ look. 

Skin damage and collagen supplements 

Just because we’ve damaged our skin in the past doesn’t mean we should give up trying to care for it now and in the future. On the contrary, one might argue it becomes especially critical to do so for sun-damaged skin! 

As we’ve already established, collagen has a primary role in the production and maintenance of our skin. From our early twenties, our natural production levels begin to deplete. That’s where Edible Health collagen protein powder comes in. 

Our customers take collagen powder to restore collagen protein in the skin. Many attribute the smoothening of fine lines and wrinkles or achieving a more vibrant, glowing complexion, to taking Edible Health collagen powder. 

Is it safe to use sunbeds? 

Technically, we should not be referring to skin damaged by sunbeds as ‘sun’ burned, because there is no sign of natural sunshine in a tanning salon.

However, UV light from tanning beds can be very dangerous for the skin. Indeed, tanning salons are now illegal in Australia and Brazil, whilst in other countries, including the UK, they are illegal for persons under 18. If you can’t resist a good sunbed session, then at the very least, wear a broad-spectrum, natural 30 - 50+ SPF sunscreen.  

We’re big fans of getting your tan from a bottle - why risk the burn when you can spray on a natural golden glow?! 

sunscreen for sunburn

Does using sunscreen increase the chance of Vitamin D deficiency?

Using sunscreen can increase the chances of Vitamin D deficiencies if you do not get adequate and appropriate sun exposure without sunscreen. 

Sunlight is essential for our health. So, to get your daily dose of D whilst protecting your skin from the more harmful effects of the sun, we suggest sunbathing or spending time in the sun in the very early or late hours of the day before the sun gets hot, without wearing any protection. Typically, this is around 7-9am in the morning and 3-5pm in the afternoon, but will vary depending on your location in relation to the equator. Do your research and be super careful…

Sun hot on your skin?... Go back in!

If you’re venturing out during the hotter times of the day or, if you know you will be outdoors or by windows for extended periods, we encourage the use of natural sunscreen on any exposed skin (especially the face). Just be careful to avoid any products which contain nasty chemicals as they themselves can be as harmful as too much sun.

Skin cancer and early detection 

According to The Skincancer Org, the five-year survival rate for early detection of melanoma is 99%. If you’re female, you probably already self-examine your breasts monthly, right? Well, why not add a skin check at the same time? And fellas, you can just turn this into a monthly routine as well! Watch any sunspots, freckles and moles carefully. Consider taking photos with a coin alongside the spot so as to better understand if moles, freckles or blemishes change shape, colour or texture over time. If you’re at any point concerned, see your GP. And when you’re going to your GP for an annual check-up, be sure to get them to skin-scan your body and assess it for any early warning skin cancer signs. 

sun damage treatments

What treatments are available for sun-damaged skin? 

A horrendous old-waves tail to treat sun-damaged skin advises applying butter on the burn. What?! These days, we understand just how terrible an idea this really is - putting fat on a burn is like putting fuel on the fire! 

Instead, apply a cool, wet cloth to the affected area and increase water intake for several days. Look to soothing applications such as aloe vera gel (put in the fridge beforehand) and/or essential oil of lavender applied liberally over the burned skin (diluted for children) and, most certainly, stay out of the sun during recovery.  If the sunburn is severe you may need emergency medical treatment. 

In terms of long-term sun damage, some people turn to more aggressive treatments such as chemical peels, microdermabrasion, and laser therapy. 

It’s a shame we can’t turn back the clock, as prevention is better than cure when it comes to sunburn. Think sunhat, sunscreen, natural shade. If smokers stop smoking, their lungs eventually begin to heal. Alas, the same cannot be said for the body’s largest organ, our skin. Once the damage is done, that’s it. In fact, those of us regularly exposed to UV rays before the age of 25 and those who experience childhood sunburn have a greater risk of developing skin cancer later in life

Take-home points 

  • Sun-damaged skin is caused by harmful Ultraviolet A and Ultraviolet B rays 
  • UVA rays are linked to skin ageing and cancers 
  • UVA rays can penetrate below the dermis of the skin, damaging collagen fibres 
  • UVB rays are linked to skin burning and cancers 
  • The effects of skinburn are irreversible, and regularly or badly burned skin is susceptible to premature ageing and developing skin cancers, including  potentially fatal melanomas 
  • Sunspots are also known as liver spots, brown ‘splotches’ that form where skin has burned 
  • Many Edible Health customers take our collagen protein powder specifically to maintain and/or improve the health and appearance of of their skin 
  • Inadequate sun exposure can lead to Vitamin D deficiency and this applies to wearing sunscreen all the time and staying indoors too much
  • Exposure to the sun at safe times of the day, as well as sun gazing, are extremely beneficial to health
  • Prevention is always better than cure - use a natural sunscreen, find shade and cover-up if going outdoors in the heat of the day or for prolonged periods
  • Avoid sunbeds
  • Opt for a natural spray tan instead! 

 The information we have provided herewith, and all linked materials, are not intended nor should they be construed as medical advice. Moreover, the information herewith should not be used as a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. Please refer to our Terms and Conditions and consult your General Practitioner for advice specific for you.