Friday, July 3, 2015

Skin changes due to sun exposure

There are many reactions that are caused when sunlight hits your outer skin. Melanocytes are excited into action, which in turn produce melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its individual color or tan. Sunlight causes freckles, the color in some moles, and potentially mild to severe sunburn. Finally, DNA can be altered and may form malignancies later on.

Melanin absorbs UV light and is produced by your body in an attempt to protect itself from radiation. A tan is the body’s way of responding to sun damage. When you see people walking around with a nice golden tan, they are literally exemplifying the body’s magnificent response to danger. If you have a tan, you have sun damage. The two are one and the same. Black skin, however, is naturally protected (in part) from the sun due to the high amounts of melanin inherent in the skin. So if you’re African-American or another dark skin type, you have not incurred damage; you are simply blessed with a built-in sunscreen from the melanin naturally (genetically) present in your skin.

A sunburn, quite simply, is caused by overexposure to the sun. It appears as inflammation followed by swelling of the outer, epidermal tissue. As the skin becomes inflamed, epidermal cells are killed prematurely. Later, this outer skin will flake off and peel.

Symptoms of a sunburn include redness, swelling, and pain upon touching the effected areas. Usually these symptoms manifest anywhere from one to 24 hours after overexposure. Depending on its severity, the sunburn will fade after several days, leaving behind skin that is sometimes tan and quite often peeling. The type of sunburn you most likely receive from sun exposure is classified as a first-degree burn. If blisters are associated with severe swelling, it is a second-degree burn.

Sun exposure causes cumulative damage. This is what a lot of people just don’t understand. You start accumulating “sun-time” from birth, whenever and however long you are exposed to the sun’s rays. This includes walking to and from your car as well as basking in the sun at the beach. The sun doesn’t differentiate one kind of exposure from the other. All exposure counts in terms of sun-time. Skin cancers can take many years to form under the surface. If you were sunbathing at 18 years old, it may take 10 to 20 years for that damage to show up.

I have sent many clients to the dermatologist to have a mole or a funny-looking spot checked out. I am noticing more and more odd places on peoples’ skin each year. The rate at which I send people to get their skin looked at seems to be accelerating. Maybe only one in 10 clients comes back with a diagnosis of skin cancer or a precancerous growth, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. If you get facials, hopefully your aesthetician is keeping a watchful eye out for your skin, your moles (new or existing), and any changes that may occur.

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