The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
the Medical Front Lines

Wrinkles in Time: Photoaging

Wrinkles in Time: Photoaging

As I enjoy my vacation in sunny Cabo San Lucas, sitting under my umbrella covered in sunscreen and SPF clothing, I am reminded of how much the sun can damage and age our skin. I am sure that the majority of tourists seen sunbathing and sunburning by the pool have no idea how much damage the sun can cause—not only skin cancer, but photoaging as well.

Photoaging, also known as dermatoheliosis or extrinsic aging, is defined as the premature aging of the skin caused by repeated exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Signs of photoaging include wrinkles, fine lines, pigmentation changes, dry skin, uneven tone, loss of elasticity, and dilated blood vessels. It most commonly occurs in older, fair skinned individuals who have spent a significant time outdoors but can occur in all skin types with a long pattern of sun exposure. Patients often have a history of multiple sunburns, careers or hobbies that require them to be outdoors, or they have spent substantial time sunbathing or in tanning beds.

When UV rays hit the skin, they damage its DNA, and cells in the dermis scramble to produce melanin in the epidermis to prevent further damage. UVB rays have shorter wavelengths and produce sunburn whereas UVA rays penetrate deeper into the dermis to damage collagen and elastin, which are associated with photoaging.

There are multiple ways to treat the effects of photoaging. However, protecting your skin and wearing sunscreen every day are important in prevention. Not only can this keep photoaging from getting worse, but it can play a big role in skin cancer prevention. It is important to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects from both UVA and UVB rays; some sunscreens even contain DNA repair enzymes to help undo previous damage. In addition, sun protective clothing and hats are essential when spending time outdoors.


Filed under: Dermatology

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