Sunbathing and sun exposure can put you at risk for serious medical problems. Below are forms of skin damage that can result from overexposure to the sun.
Darkened skin that results from tanning is actually a sign of skin damage. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun increases your risk of developing skin cancer. Always use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen when in the sun.
- Sunburn (First-Degree Burn)
Excessive sun exposure causes your skin to turn red. This redness is known as sunburn and is actually a thermal burn to the outer layer of the skin. Treatments for sunburn include over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, cold compresses, and moisturizing creams, all of which attempt to reduce pain and discomfort.
- Sunburn (Second-Degree Burn)
Severe sunburn can lead to blistered skin. This type of sunburn is considered to be a second-degree burn. Nerve endings found in deep tissues are damaged. The blisters that form should not be broken, as they are the body’s natural protection for the damaged skin. You should seek medical care if blisters develop on your sunburned skin.
The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light can damage the layers of the skin. Over time, this damage shows up as sagging, stretched, wrinkled skin.
The UV light from the sun can also cause irregular pigmentation of the skin. This causes the skin tone to appear uneven or discolored.
Freckles may become more prominent after sun exposure. Most of the time, freckles are normal and do not pose any health risk. However, some early stage cancers may resemble freckles. See a doctor if a freckle has an unusual size, shape, or color, or becomes painful.
Melasma (chloasma) is an abnormal patch of brown skin on the cheeks, nose, or forehead, usually developing during pregnancy. Always use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, as if you have melasma, sun exposure may cause the condition to worsen.
- Age Spots (Solar Lentigines)
Age spots (solar lentigines) are harmless spots that appear on sun-exposed areas of the skin, most commonly on hands, face, and neck. They occur after repeated sun exposure. Consult your doctor or dermatologist to monitor any abnormal skin discoloration you may have
- Actinic Keratosis (Solar Keratosis)
Small, scaly red or brown papules, known as actinic keratosis, are the result of excessive sun exposure. They are more common in people with fair skin, blonde or red hair, and blue or green eyes. They may progress to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
- Actinic Cheilitis (Farmer’s Lip)
Actinic cheilitis is related to actinic keratosis, and appears on the lower lips. This precancerous condition includes the symptoms of scaly patches or dry, cracked lips. It can become squamous cell carcinoma, so see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that can appear as a firm red nodule, or a crusted, scaly wound that does not heal. It is not usually brown-pigmented like melanoma. It often occurs in sun-exposed areas of the body such as the head, face, lips, ears, and hands. It is curable in its early stages.
Bowen disease is referred to as squamous cell carcinoma “in situ.” It is a noninvasive skin cancer that remains on surface of the skin. It typically appears as reddish-brown, scaly, or crusty plaque.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It is the most easily treated because it grows very slowly. Basal cell carcinoma usually appears as a lump or an irregular ulcerated area on the skin. It can also appear as a flat, scaly, scab or a white, waxy scar-like lesion on some skin-damaged areas.
Melanoma causes the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. Melanomas usually appear on the skin as irregularly shaped moles or freckles. Their irregular shape, size, and coloration are indicators that they are cancerous. Consult your doctor or dermatologist if you are concerned about any moles or lesions on your skin.
Cataracts can develop in the lens of the eye due to overexposure from UV sunlight. Cataracts are not painful, but can cause cloudy vision, double vision, and glare from lights. You can help prevent cataracts by wearing sunglasses and hats to shield the eyes from the sun.
- Five Steps Towards Prevention
- The best way to avoid skin damage from the sun is to avoid sun exposure.
- Stay out of the sun midday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Wear SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen when outdoors.
- Wear protective clothing, including hats and sunglasses.
- See a doctor to check any skin changes.