While most people know that skipping sunscreen when lounging at the pool is a bad idea, few realize that incidental sun exposure, even on gloomy, cloudy days, can be more damaging to our skin. Whether sitting in an office with a window, commuting on the freeway, or walking the dog, if we neglect to protect ourselves from daily sun damage, our skin and our health will pay the price.
UVA light in particular is responsible for photoaging because it causes damage to both the epidermis and the dermis. When UV rays from the sun or a tanning booth strike the skin, they initiate reactions, including inflammation, sunburn and pigment cell activation (also known as a sun tan). The UV rays also kill some cells and alter the DNA of others. Over time, with repeated exposure, collagen and elastin fibers break down, producing wrinkling and sagging. All of these reactions working in unison result in premature aging and the formation of precancers and skin cancers.
Take the cautionary case of 69-year-old Bill McElligott, who is seen in the above photo, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. During the 28 years McElligott spent driving a truck for a living, the UVA rays he received through the window of his vehicle severely damaged the skin on the left side of his face. As the photo shows, the left side of McElligott’s face looks decades older than the right side, which had been protected from being inside the truck, away from direct sunlight. McElligott’s doctors have now ordered him to use sunscreenand topical retinoids and to undergo monitoring for skin cancer.
Unfortunately, with fewer than 10,000 dermatologists in the United States serving more than 300 million people, most of us will never see a dermatologist. However, that shouldn’t make you powerless in the battle against the signs of sun aging. Following a daily skincare regimen can go a long way to reduce the signs of sun damage and make skin appear younger and more even-toned.
Regardless of gender, skin tone or ability to tan, we’re all under one sun. It’s never too late, or too early, to begin practicing safe sun so both sides of your face can be telling the same story … that of a healthier, younger-looking complexion.