There's no question the sun plays a starring role in sustaining life
on Earth. Now, the bad news. While most Americans know that the vast majority
of skin cancers are caused by the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, many
aren't aware that up to 90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly
associated with aging—from wrinkles to sagging skin and liver spots—also
are attributable to the sun and a process called photoaging.
July is UV Safety Month, and ATRIO Health Plans is taking this opportunity to increase awareness
of what photoaging is and how it can be prevented.
Photoaging Versus Chronological Skin Aging
First, it's instructive to differentiate between chronological aging
of skin versus photoaging.
All organs, including skin, age with each passing year; this is chronological
aging. In contrast, photoaging is sun-induced, accelerated aging of the
skin. While chronological aging of skin is tied to the passage of time,
photoaging is driven by a person's degree of sun exposure and skin
pigment. It's worth noting that artificial sources of UV radiation—such
as tanning beds—also cause photoaging.
Early Signs of Photoaging
Photoaging is not a stealthy process; it occurs where you would expect—in
those portions of the body most often exposed to UV rays: face, neck,
arms, back of hands, shoulders, and legs. Early signs of photoaging include:
- Fine wrinkles around the eyes and mouth, and frown lines on the forehead.
Over time, wrinkles around the eyes and mouth increase in number and depth,
while forehead frown lines are visible even when not frowning.
- Spider veins on the nose, cheeks, and neck.
- Uneven skin tone, particularly on the face.
- Lips lose color, fullness, and definition.
- Skin has a leathery, sagging appearance.
- Liver spots (also called age spots) appear on areas such as the face and
back of hands.
- Broken blood vessels often are visible on the nose and cheeks.
- Areas exposed to the sun may bruise more easily.
- Red, rough scaly spots—called actinic keratosis—may emerge.
As these can be pre-cancerous, a medical professional should be consulted.
Unlike chronological skin aging, photoaging is largely preventable by practicing
good sun-protection habits, including:
- While outdoors, particularly when the sun's UV rays are strongest—which
is between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.—cover your skin as much as possible
with clothing and by wearing a broad-brimmed hat.
- On hot days, and during peak UV-ray hours, seek shade.
- Always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (minimum SPF 30) that protects
against both UVB and UVA rays. Reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating.
- Also, be sure to pay particular attention when applying sunscreen to the
face, ears, neck, and back of hands. These areas are at the greatest risk
for sun damage. Additionally, the décolleté should be part
of women's sunscreen regimen. Lips also are prone to photoaging and
should be protected with an SPF 30 lip balm.
- Although sunscreen needn't be slathered on, it should be applied liberally
to maximize its effectiveness.
- As an added photoaging defense, use moisturizers, hand creams, body lotions,
foundations, and lipsticks containing an SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen.
When planning outdoor activities, you can determine the extent of sun protection
needed by checking the
Environmental Protection Agency's UV index.
- Avoid using indoor-tanning devices.
Aging is a natural process. If we're fortunate enough to grow old,
we will unescapably age. However, there's no reason to accelerate
this process, and potentially face health dangers as a result of not taking
smart steps to ward off photoaging.