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How Does The Sun Damage Your Skin?

Summer is just getting started and with all the water and outdoor activities in Maryland, you’ll likely be out in the sun for long periods. At Profile MD, we see patients for all kinds of sun damage and skin cancer caused by ultraviolet rays and tanning booths. We answer all your questions, starting with “how does the sun damage your skin”. We want to make sure you know the risks of sun exposure and the precautions to take to ensure that your skin remains healthy all year round.

What Does Your Skin Do? 

Protection of Organs

The skin acts as a physical barrier, protecting surface-level and deep tissue, as well as organs from DNA and mechanical damage. The UV radiation protection helps reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Regulation of Body Temperature

The skin helps regulate body temperature by producing sweat and adjusting blood vessel flow. Sweat evaporates from the skin’s surface to cool the body, whereas the blood vessels dilate or narrow to increase or decrease blood flow to retain heat and maintain a stable internal temperature.

Sensory Perception

As you know, skin is very sensitive. There are different types of nerve endings in the skin that help detect light touch, pressure, and temperature. This also includes pain detection by way of nociceptors (pain receptors) in the skin that trigger your protective reflexes when triggered by harmful stimuli.

Protection Against Microbes

The skin helps protect internal organs and tissues from bacteria, fungi, and pathogens from entering the system. Through tightly packed cells of the epidermis, the skin forms a physical barrier. 

Smiling young couple in swimwear running together along a sandy beach on a sunny summer afternoon

Harmful Ultraviolet Rays 

Two types of ultraviolet rays can affect your skin—UVA and UVB. UV rays have been proven to be a human carcinogen, due to their ability to produce genetic mutations that lead to skin cancer.

UVA Rays

  • Are the sun’s long-wave rays
  • Can pass through window glass
  • Penetrate deep into the dermis (the layer beneath the epidermis)
  • Contribute to premature signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles
  • Can trigger the formation of skin cancers
  • Are the dominant tanning ray

UVB Rays

  • Are the sun’s short-wave rays
  • Are the primary causes of sunburn
  • Penetrate the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis
  • Change in intensity from season to season and time of day
  • Do not penetrate glass effectively

What Does Sun Exposure Do to Your Skin

Destroy Elastic and Collagen Fibers

UV radiation, specifically UVA, penetrates deep into your skin, breaking down elastin fibers. On the other side, UVB damages collagen in the dermis, causing sagging and wrinkles.

Precancerous Lesions

 Standing in the sun too long without sun protection can cause actinic keratoses. These rough patches are considered to be precancerous, potentially turning into squamous cell carcinoma if untreated.


Chronic sun damage can accelerate photoaging, resulting in fine lines and deep wrinkles.


Routine sun exposure can diminish skin elasticity and collagen protection, leading to deep expressive lines, crow’s feet, and frown lines. 

Blood Vessel Dilation

Telangiectasia is caused by chronic sun exposure. Small blood vessels dilate, especially on the face, causing spider veins and broken capillaries.

Dark Spots

UV radiation causes melanin production, resulting in dark spots and solar lentigines, especially in sun-exposed areas.

Leather-like Appearance

Skin thickens when chronically exposed to the sun, resulting in a leathery appearance due to the abnormal elastin fiber production.

Skin Yellowing

Your complexion can turn yellow after prolonged sun exposure. This yellowish tint develops due to dead cell build-up.

Effects Of Too Much Sun Exposure

A majority of skin cancers are directly linked to sun damage, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Early prevention is essential as UV radiation damage accumulates over time. Ranging from mild sunburns to serious premature aging and skin care, sun damage comes in all forms.

How to treat sunburn

How To Protect Skin From the Sun

Sun Protection 


Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, applying it generously to all exposed skin, including your face, neck, and hands. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if swimming or sweating.

Take Breaks 

Take regular breaks from sun exposure, especially during midday hours when the sun’s rays are most intense.

Cover Up

Wear protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and pants, to shield your skin from UV radiation.

Skin Care

Establish a skincare routine that includes morning and night applications of moisturizers and serums containing antioxidants and ingredients like retinol to help repair and protect the skin from sun damage.

Dangers of Tanning Beds

Avoid using tanning beds, as they emit UV radiation that can cause skin damage, premature aging, and increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.

Reversing Sun Damage

Office Procedures

Consult with a dermatologist for professional treatments like photodynamic therapy, intense pulsed light, or fractional laser resurfacing, which can effectively target and repair sun-damaged skin at deeper levels.

How Much Sun Exposure Is Healthy?

While some sun exposure is necessary for vitamin D absorption and overall well-being, it’s essential to balance the benefits with the risks of sun damage.

Experts typically recommend getting about 10 to 30 minutes of sun exposure on the arms, legs, or back without sunscreen a few times a week.  It’s essential to remain aware though that sun damage effects accumulate over time. It can show up as sun damage on the face.

The Takeaway

Maintaining youthful skin requires balancing sun exposure. Protect against damage and skin cancer with sunscreen and protective clothing. Consult the skin care specialists from Profile MD for personalized advice about the side effects of sun damage, and to receive curated treatments like laser-skin therapy, mole removal, chemical peels, and microneedling. Remember, moderation and protection are key for healthy, youthful skin.

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Experience Matters

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With years of medical experience our doctors, Dr. Jared Mallalieu and Dr. Ross VanAntwerp, specialize in bringing out the best in people through our unique laser and cosmetic procedures. Get in touch with us for your free, no-obligation consultation.

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