What Happens to Your Skin When You Don’t Use Sunscreen?

“Apply sunscreen when you go outside, year-round, no matter what the weather is like.” This is advice we’ve heard our entire lives, and still most people don’t follow it. It’s far too easy to come up with excuses like it’s cloudy, you’ll be indoors, or you don’t want to get it all over your clothes!

What most people don’t realize is that even a small dosage of sun exposure can be damaging to skin cells. You may not notice it right now, but eventually you will—damages accumulate over a lifetime. At Coastal Dermatology and Surgery Center, many of our clients ask what happens to our skin when sun screen isn’t applied consistently, and we’re here to give you the facts.

Ultraviolet A and B Rays

Ultraviolet B rays: UVB rays are short waves of energy absorbed quickly by the surface layer of skin. When our skin starts to burn, it responds by producing inflammatory mediator chemicals, some of which seep lower into the skin’s middle layer called the dermis. These chemicals irritate tiny blood vessels in the dermis, which swell and produce the redness you see from the first signs of burning. UVB rays also affect the genetic material of the dermis, which causes damage that can lead to skin cancers like melanoma. Skin pigment cells (melanocytes) are also affected, due to the effort it takes to filter out the sun’s rays by increasing their production of melanin. This kind of damage can lead to freckles and spotty brown age marks.

Ultraviolet A rays: UVA rays are responsible for premature skin aging due to sun exposure. UVAs are longer waves of energy that penetrate the skin more deeply and change our skin’s elasticity from breaking down collagen and elastin. As our bodies try to fight this imbalance with inflammation, blood vessels dilate and can remain permanently dilated, which can result in spider veins.

Achieving that “Perfect” Tan

Although many believe that getting tan creates a “healthy glow,” this is a misnomer. In reality, tanned skin is damaged skin. The change in color is a permanent alteration to our genetic structures that dictate the future of our skin’s health. As skin cells continue to replicate and regenerate, they’ll continue to create copies of the genetic changes – not good!

The Health Benefits of Sunscreen

Sunscreen is designed to be a barrier to protect our skin from absorbing the sun’s rays. It contains ingredients that filter sunlight. While some light will still get through to our skin, a good amount is prevented and blocked. And if you can find sunscreen that includes zinc or titanium dioxide, even better! These compounds reflect rays before they even reach our skin.

Constantly being reminded to wear sunscreen might sound like a nagging lecture, but it’s important to know the facts so you can make the best decision for your skin. If you’re not sure what type of sunscreen to use, we’re happy to discuss your options! Our skin center also carries a full line of EltaMD sunscreens with different formulations that can be customized to your skin needs. Give us a call or send us a message to learn more!