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The Sun and Your Skin

Skin Damage

Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause significant damage to your skin, in the form of wrinkles, freckles, sun spots, tans, or burns.


UVA rays from the sun can penetrate deep into your skin and damage collagen, which is the protein that holds your skin together in a firm and smooth way. Once collagen is damaged, it cannot re-build itself. Without the collagen structure, the skin has nothing to prevent it from wrinkling.


Freckles and sun spots are also signs of skin damage and develop as a result of too much sun exposure. They are frequently found on face, legs and back of hands. Individuals who sunbathe regularly may develop freckles and sun spots all over their skin.


Overexposure to the sun's UV rays can result in a painful sunburn. UV rays penetrate deep into the layers of your skin and kill living skin cells. In response to this trauma, the body's immune system increases blood flow into the damaged area and this causes your sunburned skin to become warm and red. Sunburns can result in substantial DNA damage to your skin cells. Skin cancer often results from this damage.

Sun Tan

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan is a sign that damage has been done to your skin. A tan is your skin's attempt to prevent UV rays from doing any further damage to the sensitive skin cells in your epidermis. A tan does not help protect your skin from getting a sunburn in the future, and is equivalent to merely an SPF 4! Instead of relying on a tan, protect your skin by wearing protective clothing, a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses.


Is there a safe way to tan?
Suntans are not healthy. In fact, there is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan. A tan is your body's defense mechanism. Your skin is trying to protect itself from damaging UV rays. Artificial tanning is just as or even more dangerous than the sun. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined in a 2001 report that exposure to sun lamps and tanning beds causes cancer. Tanning lamps emit 2 to 3 times more UVA than the sun. On an average day in the United States, more than one million people invest both time and money visiting tanning salons. The use of tanning salons by people under age 25 more than tripled between 1996 and 2003. People who use tanning devices have 2.5 times the risk of squamous cell cancer and 1.5 times the risk of basal cell cancer. And alarmingly, people ages 35 or younger who use tanning beds regularly have a melanoma risk 8-fold higher than people who have never used a tanning bed. Because of these risks, policymakers in many U.S. states are regulating or banning the use of tanning devices by minors.1

Do medications make you more susceptible to sunburn?
Some medications, including commonly used acne medications and antibiotics, can make skin more susceptible to sunburn. Other medications may cause photosensitive reactions like a rash, extreme sunburn, itching, red bumps, or dry, scaly skin. These symptoms may appear quickly, or take up to three days to show up after sun exposure. Different people react in different ways to medications, so some people might be photosensitive to many different medications, while others are not photosensitive at all.

If you are photosensitive, wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun (long pants and sleeves), hats, sunglasses, gloves, and stay in the shade when possible. Sometimes sunscreen can help protect your skin from photosensitivity, but at other times it can react with your medications, so it is best to consult your pharmacist about whether sunscreen would be a good solution in your case.

When it comes to photosensitivity, the most important thing to remember is to CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR AND YOUR PHARMACIST about whether your medications are affecting your skin and what you should do to prevent it.

What should I do after I get a sunburn?
There are many ways to treat a sunburn. Aspirin can reduce swelling and relieve pain and hydrocortisone cream can relieve the inflammation and itching that often accompany a sunburn. You can also use cold compresses to relieve pain and swelling, as well as apply moisturizers to reduce dryness and peeling. Avoid using strong soaps on the sunburned area and never peel the areas of skin where blisters have dried and broken. Most importantly, remember to use sunscreen and protective clothing whenever you are outdoors to prevent another sunburn in the future.

1. National Conference of State Legislatures
2. American Academy of Dermatology
3. How Stuff Works: "What is a Sunburn?" Institute