Sun damaged skin: how the sun damages your skin

Did you know that unprotected sun exposure is the #1 cause of premature skin ageing? In this article, find out what sun damage is, learn how it affects the skin and discover ways to prevent and reduce it.

What is UV radiation?

To start off with, UV radiation is part of the light spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. It has wavelengths shorter than visible light, which are classified as UVA and UVB rays. Both types of radiation damage the skin in different ways. Ultraviolet B (shortwave) rays are responsible for burnt, red skin, while ultraviolet A (longwave) rays can penetrate deeper into the skin and cause DNA damage.

Sun ageing: what are the signs of sun damaged skin?

Sun damage has short- and long-term consequences. An immediately visible sign of sun damage is sunburn. In a mild form, this appears as red, inflamed skin that feels warmer than usual. In more severe cases, it is accompanied by blisters, as well as nausea and dizziness. In short, sunburn can be very serious.

On the other hand, the more long-term consequences of unprotected sun exposure include dry, dull and uneven skin tone. The sun can dry out skin and deplete its levels of essential fatty acids, leaving skin looking and feeling dry, flaky and rough. Sun damage also slows down the rate of skin cell renewal, causing a build-up of old, dead skin cells that result in dull, congested skin.

Discolouration caused by sun damage

One of the most obvious, long-lasting signs of sun damage is discolouration (either dark spots or more diffused, patchy hyperpigmentation) due to sun exposure. The brown spots come about because UV light triggers excess melanin production within the skin. In the absence of broad-spectrum sun cream, the skin overproduces melanin to protect itself from sun damage. For many people, the excess melanin is produced unevenly and concentrates in smaller areas, causing stubborn pigmentation marks. The resulting dark spots require powerful, skin-evening ingredients to fade hyperpigmentation and help the skin return to its natural colour. Discover our range of products that help with brown spots treatment.

Need a formula that targets discolouration while offering advanced results without the irritation? Look no further than our 25% Vitamin C + Glutathione Clinical Serum. Suitable for all skin types, tones & ages – the formula works to maintain the skin's natural amount of glutathione & vitamin C, while minimising the oxidative stress that prompts discolouration. You may also discover alternate products that help with brown spots treatment.

Collagen and elastin loss due to sun damage

Sun damage can destroy the collagen and elastin in your skin too. Collagen is a protein that retains the firmness of your skin and elastin is the support fibre that allows skin to bounce back. Collagen and elastin degradation in the deeper skin layers can result in premature signs of skin ageing, such as wrinkles and fine lines, because your skin loses its elasticity and firmness. Making matters worse, unprotected sun exposure also diminishes the skin’s hyaluronic acid content, leading to thinner and more fragile skin. Repeated sunburn and unprotected sun exposure can also increase the chance of various forms of skin cancer.

Protect your skin from sun damage

Prevention is better than cure, so make sure you protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun every day. It’s never too early (or too late) to start using SPF. In fact, the older you get, the harder it is for your skin to repair the effects of sun damage, so the sooner you start, the better. Opt for sun cream products rated PA++++ since they offer extremely high protection from harmful UVA radiation.

On an average day, your day cream with SPF should last without the need for re-application. But if you’re going to be outside for long periods of time or sweating a lot, you will need to re-apply your SPF regularly to ensure you are fully protected. Also be mindful that some medications can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

Reduce visible sun damage

Though it’s not possible to completely repair sun damage, the right skincare products plus daily use of broad spectrum sun cream can bring about significant visible improvement.

  • AHA exfoliant: Exfoliates the skin's surface, helping to fade pigment spots and reduce dry skin. Your skin tone will look more even with a healthy glow.
  • Retinol: Stimulates the natural cell renewal process and reduces wrinkles and skin discolourations caused by the harmful effects of the sun. Read more about retinol for wrinkle prevention.
  • Vitamin C: Reduces brown spots, helps brighten skin and protects against damage caused by environmental pollution.
  • Antioxidant serums: The powerful antioxidants in these serums protect skin against environmental damage and boost the efficiency of your SPF product for sun protection.
  • Discolouration treatments: Once daily use of a leave-on product that contains ingredients proven to fade dark spots and patchy discolourations can improve this concern within weeks.

What helps with sunburn?

Everyone knows what sunburn feels like and it’s definitely not fun. Of course prevention is always better than cure, but luckily there are some things you can do to heal your skin if you do happen to get burned by the sun’s rays.

The first sign of (mildly) sunburned skin is usually the red colour. The sunburn then develops for another 12 to 24 hours, which makes it important to take these steps as soon as possible:

  • Cool the burned skin for a few hours using cold, damp compresses, or a bag of ice wrapped in a towel. This will help to draw out the heat and reduce any redness. Then carefully apply Calm Toner to help relieve the sunburn.
  • Apply a light moisturiser with healing ingredients, like niacinamide, as long as there are no blisters on your skin. Make sure any product you use is non-irritating and fragrance free .
  • Get out of the sun right away; go inside or find some shade. And drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

What shouldn’t you do?

Now we've learned how to help treat sunburn, it's also important to stress what not to do:

  • Do not place ice directly on your skin without a protective layer. It is too cold and can make the damage worse. Instead wrap the ice in a clean towel or dishcloth.
  • Do not apply a thick balm, cream, or butter to sunburned skin, as these products will trap the heat.
  • Do not use creams that contain fragrances. This can lead to skin irritation.
  • An aloe vera gel on its own is not enough. Sunburned skin needs a broader range of skin-repairing ingredients. Instead, use a night cream or gel that also contains other moisture-regulating ingredients, as well as aloe vera.

What to do with bad sunburn?

If you are badly burned, for example, if you feel faint or dizzy, have severe blisters, feel nauseous or have a high temperature, go and see your doctor.

How to prevent a sunburn

So now you may be asking yourself, how often should I reapply my sunscreen? Here are some top tips:

  • Use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every day, even when it’s cloudy.
  • Apply the product liberally to all parts of the body that will be exposed to the sun.
  • Apply 15 to 20 minutes before going outside.
  • Repeat this routine regularly, especially if you are outside a lot, perspiring, or if you have been swimming.

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