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  • Anastasiya Yovkova-Telang

Excessive sun exposure and how it damages our skin


Today there is lots of freely available information about the damage sun causes to our skin and people who are aware of it no longer go out in the sun without an adequate protection. Although awareness is increasing sun worshipping does not seem to decline as tanned skin can be an accessory as it gives a nice healthy glow.

Tanning was made chic in 1923 when Coco Chanel, the French fashion designer, accidentally got a lot of sun while sailing a yacht to Cannes. When she returned from the Riviera golden brown a fad was born. Bronzed skin trend persisted into the 80-s when top-models with golden tanned skin like Elle McPherson and Kristie Brinkley graced the covers of many glossy magazines. The today social media is dominated by toffee-colored skin beauty icons like Kim Kardashian, Jessica Alba, Beyoncé that define the 21-st century concept of beauty. They continue the trend of tanned skin as many men and women are trying to achieve these toffee-coloured complexions forgetting that these celebrities are of mixed-race. 26% of men and 33% of women in Britain actively try to get a tan, with even higher rates in younger people according to Cancer Research UK.

But decades of careless sun worshipping by the unknowing public have taken their toll – increased skin cancer rates have been linked to excessive sun exposure. In the UK 86% of melanoma skin cancer cases are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation and 86% of the melanoma skin cancer cases are preventable (according to Cancer Research UK). Also, accelerated aging of the skin is contributed to excessive sun exposure.

Researches make a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic skin ageing. Intrinsic ageing is the natural process of ageing and is genetically determined and irreversible. Extrinsic ageing, however, is caused by the environmental factors such as cumulative sun exposure, air pollution, stress or lifestyle habits that lead over time to cumulative damage to the skin.

Prolonged exposure to solar radiation over time without adequate protection is believed to be the major factor causing skin damage, premature ageing of the skin and skin tumors.

Reading this article, you may recall yourself sunbathing near the pool, at the beach or in your backyard exposing your tender skin to the aggressive sun rays without adequate protection just to get chic bronzed skin. You may also recall several hours later that your skin is becoming red and tender to the touch. If you have overdone it you may have fever, chills, and headache.

The result – you have a sunburn and your skin is inflamed. Certainly, one of the most obvious examples of inflammatory process at work is sunburn. The inflammatory response as a result of the sunburn stimulates many biochemical reactions that ultimately damage the skin causing premature ageing.

The UVB (burning) rays have shorter wavelength and high-intensity. They attack the living cells of the epidermis (top layer of the skin) and cause tanning, burning and significant damage to the skin tissues. Tanning or the darkening of the skin is, in fact, the natural protection of the skin against the UV radiation. Tanning does protect the skin to a certain degree but usually is not enough to prevent skin damage.

UVA (ageing) rays have a longer wavelength and penetrate deeper into the skin thus attacking the structures within the dermis and the walls of the blood vessels. The skin responds to the blast of UVA rays by dilating the blood vessels to deliver more oxygen and white blood cells to the dermis and epidermis. The side effect of this skin’s defensive strategy is that the blood vessels become larger and their walls get thinner. No wonder that one of the signs of sun damaged skin are visible broken capillaries. In addition, the skin tissues in their defensive efforts release a range of chemicals that regulate inflammation. These chemicals are responsible for the destruction of the lipids of the cell walls thus irreversibly damaging or destroying the skin cells. Also, to respond to the inflammation caused by the UV light, the skin tissues release a cascade of enzymes that destroy the collagen and elastin. UVA rays don’t cause redness but can be more harmful than UVB light as they damage the structures within the dermis and thus cause irreversible damage as the dermis can’t regenerate itself continually as the epidermis does.

Inflammation is also the major cause for free radical formation. Free radicals are very unstable molecules that are causing damage to the skin by stealing one or more electrons from the lipids of the skin cell wall thus leading to water loss and causing irreparable damage and premature death of the skin cells. Free radicals are a by-product of inflammation and they cause inflammation.

The result of prolonged and cumulative sun exposure over the years without adequate protection is the appearance of visible signs of premature ageing like pigmented spots, visible capillaries, rough and leather-like skin texture, sallow complexion, wrinkles and sagging of the skin. Later, skin tumors may appear, especially in those with risk factors.

It is extremely important to be aware of the inflammatory response under your skin because of sun exposure as you can stop the inflammatory cascade at several points and prevent the damage to the skin cells.

First, protecting yourself is the most obvious and important step in reducing inflammation. When walking out in the sun you should protect yourself by wearing appropriate clothing and a hat and by applying topically a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Broad-spectrum sunscreens contain ingredients that can absorb and/or block both UVA and UVB light.

Second, you can also counter inflammation internally by taking anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant supplements.

And third, you can stop inflammation and prevent trans epidermal water loss by using topical products containing soothing and anti-inflammatory ingredients.

When shopping for supplements and skincare products you should be looking for the following ingredients that are proven to reduce inflammation and disarm free radicals:

Vitamin C prevents water loss from skin and maintains the skin barrier function. It boosts the collagen and elastin production and deactivates the unstable free radicals. As there is a limit to how much vitamin C the body will absorb from food, it is recommended that vitamin C is applied directly to the skin.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, a very good moisturiser that prevents the water loss from the skin tissues and a fantastic anti-inflammatory and soothing ingredient.

Vitamins E and C have a special relationship. Vit E has the unique ability to be recycled and Vit C is needed to activate this process of regeneration. I suggest looking for a product that contains both vitamins for a more efficient fight against the free radicals. Applied directly to the skin, this pair of vitamins will shield the skin from the UVA and UVB rays damage.

Green tea is a powerful antioxidant and has great benefits to the skin such as protection from UV damage, anti-inflammatory effects, skin matrix protection.

White tea provides the skin with the same benefits in addition to the ability to inhibit the enzymes that destroy the collagen and elastin, leading to wrinkles and loss of firmness.

Co enzyme Q10 is stored in the cell walls where it reacts with the antioxidants that attack the lipid membrane and disarms them thus protecting the integrity of the cell and its vital functions. Studies have shown that Co enzyme Q10 can protect the skin from UV damage by inhibiting the collagen and elastin destroying enzymes.

Aloe Vera and Chamomile extracts are known for their wonderful moisturising, soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.

Panthenol is a natural chemical compound closely related to vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid). Panthenol has several skin benefits. D-panthenol promotes wound healing, reduces itching and inflammation, improves skin hydration, reduces trans epidermal water loss, improves skin roughness.

Although bronzed skin is trendy and appealing, there should be an awareness that sun exposure, especially prolonged and excessive over time, can be extremely damaging to the skin and can lead to premature ageing of the skin and skin tumors. However, skin is wondrously capable and very efficient in self-repair and to a greater extent damage caused to skin by prolonged and excessive sun exposure can be prevented and managed in three basic steps: protecting your skin using broad-spectrum sunscreen, supplying your skin with all necessary natural antioxidants and ingredients that manage the skin inflammation through your diet and/or by taking supplements and boosting your skin defenses with topical products containing antioxidants and soothers.

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