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Here’s What Happens If You Don’t Protect Your Skin from the Sun

You’ll improve your skin in these ways when you wear sunscreen.

It probably comes as no surprise that sunscreen helps protect you against developing skin cancer. But do you know what kind of damage the sun actually does to your skin? And why it’s so important that you protect your skin from the sun every day?

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays take a toll on your skin each and every time you are exposed. Sometimes you see the damage it causes, such as when you get a sunburn. But even if you don’t notice any damage being done, it may still be happening and won’t become apparent for years.

How does the sun damage skin?

Getting a sunburn is an obvious sign that the sun is damaging your skin. But even if you don’t get burned, damage from the sun occurs little by little over your lifetime and can affect your skin in these ways:

  • Cell damage: You may think that the glow of a tan or sunburn makes you look healthy, but if you look at skin under a microscope, you’ll actually see that the cells are damaged. This occurs in the deepest layers of the skin.
  • Dryness and loss of elasticity: As skin becomes damaged from the sun, it gets dryer and may even start to feel leathery. It may also not be as elastic due to the destruction of collagen fibers. This can lead to wrinkles, sagging skin and uneven skin texture.
  • Discoloration: Sun damage can cause areas of discoloration, such as freckles or brown areas called age, liver or sun spots.
  • Redness: Not only does your skin redden shortly after you are exposed to the sun, leading to sunburn, but you may also see lingering effects such as blotchiness, rosacea or spider veins.
  • Bruising: Your skin becomes weakened as it undergoes repeated sun exposure. This may cause it to bruise more easily.
  • Premature aging: Sun damage causes skin to age prematurely. This is often noticed with the development of fine lines and wrinkles. Aging of the skin may not correlate with your actual age, but rather depends on how much sun exposure your skin has had over the years.
  • Cancer: Although there’s no guarantee that protecting your skin from the sun will stop you from getting skin cancer, unprotected sun exposure is the leading cause of pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesions.

What are the best ways to protect yourself from the sun?

You don’t need to completely avoid the sun. In fact, recent studies have shown benefits of sun exposure on mental health, sleep cycles, bone strength and your immune system. Just follow these tips for protecting your skin:

  • Stay out of the sun when it’s at its strongest. Avoid the sun as much as possible during the middle of the day, from about 10 am to 4 pm.
  • Wear sunscreen every day. Don’t just put it on when you’re at the beach or sitting by the pool. Make daily sunscreen application (with an SPF of 30 or higher) part of your morning routine and do it all year round, even when its cloudy or cool outside.
  • Cover up. Covering skin with clothing can provide an added layer of protection (but still apply sunscreen). A wide brimmed hat can protect your face, ears and neck, which are especially vulnerable to the sun. Sunglasses that block UV light help protect eyes and the sensitive skin around them.

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Date Last Reviewed: May 12, 2022

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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