Sun damage of the skin, also known as photodamage can be either acute, as in a sunburn or more commonly, chronic, seen as gradual changes in the skin caused by an accumulation of sun exposure throughout one’s life. Chronic photo damage results in either a cosmetic change in the skin’s appearance called photo aging, or changes that are of medical and health concerns such as precancerous lesions and skin cancers. The evidence is very strong that ultraviolet light is the cause of most of the changes that we consider to be associated with aging of the skin.
Sunshine, although essential for health and well being, is certainly a hazard for the skin. For many people it feels good to spend time outdoors and this makes it difficult to avoid excessive exposure to the sun. Most of the sun damage we accumulate throughout our lives is thought to be the effect of multiple short periods of time outside. If the ozone depletion continues this may also increase our lifetime exposure.
Those living in sunny areas are clearly at risk for photodamage, as are those with occupations that require working outdoors. Activities such as skiing, sailing, and gardening can contribute to chronic photo damage. Even one-time sun exposure, causing a tan, results in damage to the skin. There is no such thing as a ‘safe’ tan.
Individuals with fair skin are clearly at greater risk although sun damage can occur in all skin types. Tanning studios are popular amongst many and this also adds to an accumulation of photodamage.
Smoking is another environmental factor that contributes to premature aging of the skin. Early recognition of sun damage will provide a better chance for reversal of it, a better result from cosmetic procedures, and reduce the number of skin cancers.
Birmingham Dermatologist, Dr. Sarah Boyce Sawyer specializes in sun damage reversal with state-of-the-art laser procedures and other technologies.
Photodynamic therapy for actinic keratoses, which are considered to be precursors of skin cancer, is a “field” treatment, covered by most insurance companies.
Other laser & light-based procedures at DLA can focus on brown pigment and skin roughness caused by ultraviolet exposure.