We’ve known for a long time that sun exposure can lead to premature ageing. One study of identical twins showed an 11.25 year difference in perceived age due to their different exposure to the sun over time[i]. One case in the New England Journal of Medicine even shows a truck driver with severe damage to just one side of his face, thanks to years of sitting in a driver’s seat window[ii]. But what is actually happening when the sun causes wrinkles and skin damage? Let’s take a look at the links between sun exposure and premature aging.

How does the sun age your skin?

When we expose ourselves to sunlight without protection, our skin is hit by both UVA and UVB rays. UVB radiation damages and kills cells in the outer layers of the skin. This promotes cell production that leads to a thickening of the epidermis over time. UVB has long been blamed for most skin cancers, but recently it has been found that UVA is also responsible for its fair share of damage – and especially deep skin damage. In fact, the World Health Organization itself states that it’s UVA that we should be particularly aware of when it comes to premature ageing[iii]. As UVA penetrates into our skin’s deeper layers, it activates receptors that reduce the skin’s future elasticity. Both the thickening and loss of elasticity play their part in the link between sun exposure and wrinkles, and of course both UVA and UVB both also cause damage that can lead to skin cancers.

Unfortunately, UVA radiation can even permeate through glass and clouds and it can reach our skin all year round. This makes regular sunscreen application and sun protective clothing a sensible choice no matter the time of year. It’s also why we should look for broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB types of sun radiation.

How to prevent premature ageing from the sun

While ageing catches up to us all at some point, there are certainly things we can do to minimise the sun’s effects. Wearing a hat and sunscreen when out in the sun is one of the simplest measures, plus of course you’ll also be protecting yourself against a higher risk of skin cancers. Remember that a ‘sun-kissed glow’ is safer when it comes from a bottle, rather than from sitting in the sun[iv]. Along with sun protection, there are the basics of good health to keep your skin in top condition. Minimise smoking and alcohol, eat a varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit and veg and keep up your regular exercise. The benefits will not only keep you looking great, but feeling great too.

To book in your next skin cancer check, free call 13SKIN (13 75 46) to find your nearest SunDoctors Skin Cancer Clinic.


[i] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4174174/

[ii] http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMicm1104059

[iii] http://www.who.int/uv/faq/uvhealtfac/en/

[iv] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/28/fake-real-tanning-health-risks_n_5207704.html