24 Feb What is Sun Damaged Skin?
Even if you do a fantastic job of protecting your skin from UV damage now, you probably weren’t quite as diligent as a child (and your parents had outdated information on the reality of sun damage). Spectrum Dermatology is dedicated to helping you comprehensively protect your skin now and in the future, and also to reversing sun damage—including damage you might not even see.
The most common signs of sun damage immediately after exposure are dry skin, a sunburn, a tan (an increase in melanin, which is your body’s defense mechanism), and actinic keratosis. Actinic keratosis is a little bump that might look scaly and turn brown, yellow, pink, or red. It’s different than a sunburn or suntan because it’s permanent. Your dermatologist can remove it, but these little bumps can also be a red flag that you’re at an increased risk of skin cancer. It’s estimated that up to 15% of actinic keratoses become squamous cell carcinoma, one of the most common types of skin cancer.
Long-Term Signs of Sun Damage
A lot of people think that once their tan or burn has faded, the sun damage from a particular event has run its course. However, sun damage can also change the skin’s collagen. This results in what’s called “photoaging,” or a premature skin aging due to sun exposure. Photoaging is what leads to fine lines and wrinkles as the collagen in the deep layer of the skin is changed from the UV exposure.
Actinic purpura, or bleeding from vessels right below the skin’s surface, can also occur over time. UV radiation harms the collagen structure that supports the skin around the small blood vessels. As we age, this particular collagen becomes even more vulnerable and the risk of rupturing is greater.
The more we’re exposed to the sun or go out unprotected (even on cloudy days), the more our skin gets damaged. The risk for all types of skin cancers, including malignant melanoma, also increases the more we subject our skin to sun damage. “Age spots,” such as increases in brown spots on the skin or moles, are actually signs of photoaging. However, it can take several years after a sun damage event for these types of photoaging to occur. That’s why it’s so difficult for patients to link their photoaging to a single event.
What to Do to Prevent and Treat Sun Damaged Skin
A dermatologist is the best expert to work with if you’re worried about sun damage. This professional can asses your degree of sun damage during an examination. If you have fair skin, you’re at a bigger risk of sun damage and skin cancer because you don’t have as much melanin as other people to naturally protect yourself. Seeing a dermatologist at least once a year for a “skin check” is the best approach to preventing and treating sun damage. During these exams, a biopsy of any strange mole or actinic keratosis happens (if recommended). Only a biopsy can reveal if an area of the skin is cancerous, pre-cancerous, or benign.
The good news is that skin cancer is very fast and easy to treat when caught in the early stages. If your biopsy does reveal skin cancer or pre-cancerous cells, you don’t have to wait for the next step. Spectrum Dermatology offers Mohs surgery, an innovative approach to skin cancer treatment that requires just one appointment. There’s a lab on-site that tests the biopsy skin samples. When a biopsy is positive for skin cancer or pre-cancer, an additional, small area of the affected site is removed for additional on-site testing. This process is repeated until you get an “all clear border” from the lab.
Mohs is effective and desired by patients because it promises minimal scarring and no need for a follow-up. However, not all dermatology clinics have the capacity to offer Mohs surgery. If you want to ensure a quick appointment, reduced risk of scarring, and peace of mind, it’s always best to see a dermatologist who offers Mohs.
Keep Clear of Sun Damage
Your dermatologist can also treat signs of photoaging with a variety of techniques including laser therapy, chemical peels, microneedling, and more. You can also find the best skin care products for you at a dermatology clinic, including top of the line sunscreens, moisturizers, cleansers, and toners. An at-home regimen with high quality products is critical to treating and protecting your skin moving forward. To learn more about products only available at dermatology offices, or to schedule your skin check, call Spectrum Dermatology at (480) 948-8400.