Anyone who ventures out into the sun without sunscreen is at risk for sun damage. It is important to realize that there are several types of sun damage. Some damage is barely noticeable, but other types, such as skin cancer, can have devastating effects. Certain skin types and ethnic groups are at a higher risk for developing sun damage, but everyone is at some risk.
Four Types of Sun Damage
You may be surprised to learn that a person can develop sun damage in as little as 30 minutes. There are four main types of sun damage. In addition, each of the four types of sun damage can eventually lead to skin cancer.
- Dry Skin – This is the most common type of sun damage and the least harmful. Skin damaged from the sun is itchy and may appear wrinkly and flaky.
- Sunburn – The second common type of sun damage is sunburn. A sunburn not only damages the skin, but it can also be very painful.
- Actinic Keratosis – The third common result of sun damage is a condition called actinic keratosis, or AK for short. This condition results in small, red, raised bumps in the sun damaged areas of the skin. Actinic keratosis is also a precancerous condition. It usually occurs when a person has been exposed to the sun for a long period of time. For some unlucky people, a long period of time can be as little as a week of UV rays exposure.
- Premature Aging – The fourth common result of sun damage is premature aging of the skin. The ultraviolet rays cause the changes to collagen under the skin, and this produces wrinkles and fine lines.
Treatment for Sun Damage
To treat dry skin caused by sun damage, use an unscented moisturizer that contains glycerin. When bathing, use unscented soap that contains glycerin and bathe in warm or cool water. Hot water will damage your skin even more and can make the dry skin worse.
You can relieve the pain of a typical sunburn with an over the counter product like Solarcane or aloe vera gel. Keep aloe vera gel in the refrigerator for a little while, so when you apply it to your skin, it has a cooling effect. Do not rub the gel; instead, use cotton balls and dab it on gently. You can also use a cold compress made out of a washcloth. This method is difficult to do if your sunburn is widespread. Cold compresses work best on small areas such as your face, chest or your feet. If you are not allergic them, take an anti-inflammatory, such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen to decrease inflammation and provide pain relief.
If the sunburn develops into blisters or severe pain, you will need to see a doctor. The doctor will most likely give you a prescription anti-inflammatory medication to help with the blistering and pain. Whatever you do, do not attempt to “pop” the blisters. Popping the blisters causes you more pain, puts you at risk for an infection, and scars your skin.
The treatments for actinic keratosis include skin creams or cryosurgery, a procedure where the dermatologist applies liquid nitrogen to the growths. The growths then freeze, and in a few days to a week, they will scab over and fall off. If the first few options do not work or the actinic keratosis, the dermatologist uses a chemical peel or laser surgery to remove them.
Risk Factors for Sun Damage
Everyone who is exposed to the sun is at risk for sun damage. However, people with certain skin types and certain groups of people, are at a higher risk for developing sun damage. Six skin types are at risk for sun damage. There are five at risk groups for sun damage.
Skin Types at Risk for Sun Damage
- Skin Type 1 – These individuals have a very fair complexion, and when exposed to the sun’s rays, they always get sunburn and never tan.
- Skin Type 2 – These individuals have a fair complexion, and when exposed to the sun’s rays, occasionally tan but usually always get sunburn.
- Skin Type 3 – These individuals have a medium complexion, and when exposed to the sun’s rays, will sometimes get a sunburn and other times a tan.
- Skin Type 4 – These individuals have a darker complexion, and when exposed to the sun’s rays, they usually tan and do not burn. However, the sun’s rays can still cause sun damage for people with skin type 4, it is just harder to see.
- Skin Type 5 – These individuals are African-American and have a light tan skin color. When exposed to the sun’s rays, they rarely get sunburned and tan easily. However, they are at a high risk for developing acral lentiginous melanoma, a very harmful form of the disease.
- Skin Type 6 – These individuals are African-American and have a very dark brown to black skin color. When exposed to the sun’s rays, they do not get sunburn nor do they tan. However, there are at a high risk for developing acral lentiginous melanoma.
Groups at Risk for Sun Damage
Five specific groups are at a higher risk for sun damage.
- Children and the Elderly –They are at a higher risk for developing skin damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
- Genetic Diseases – Individuals with certain genetic diseases, such as albinism, have almost no melanin in their skin.
- Metabolic Disorders – Individuals with certain metabolic disorders, such as porphyria, are at a higher risk for sun damage from the sun’s rays. Porphyria is a natural chemical in the body. When the chemical accumulates, which is not normal, it causes a mutation that affects the skin.
- Light Skin – Individuals with pale or white skin are at a higher risk for sun developing skin damage from the sun’s rays because they have a poor natural defense system.
- High Fat Diet – Individuals who have a diet high in fat, and those who are smokers, are at a higher risk for developing skin damage from the sun’s rays due to their lifestyle choices.
Even people who wear sunscreen when exposed to the sun’s rays can still develop skin damage or skin cancer. It is important to protect yourself from the sun’s rays, especially if you fall into one of the at-risk skin types or groups. Avoid being out in the sun when the index numbers are high. During the hours that the rays are at their peak, take other protective measures, such as wearing a hat or long sleeve shirt and pants while out in the sun.