Long term and repeated exposure to sunlight, especially ultraviolet light, can cause a variety of cosmetic and medical problems related to the skin, commonly referred to as sun damage. Sun damage can affect any area of the skin as a result of excessive exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Sun damage most commonly occurs on the face, hands and arms, and may lead to sun spots, age spots, rough skin and wrinkles. Years of sun exposure can also lead to premature aging and skin cancer. Some individuals may notice skin lesions that are a form of actinic keratosis, which is is a precancerous skin condition that develops from years of sun exposure.
The best treatment against sun damage is preventing it from occurring in the first place. It is important to wear sunscreen on a daily basis and avoid excessive exposure to the sun, especially during mid-day hours when the sun is strongest. Additional ways to prevent sun damage include:
- Always wear sun screen with an SPF of at least 15
- Wear a hat in the sun
- Wear long sleeves and long pants
- Avoid tanning beds and salons
Once sun damage has occurred, there are options available to cosmetically improve damage that has already been suffered. Injectable fillers such as collagen help to fill out lines and wrinkles to give the skin a fuller, smoother look and feel. Phototherapy can reduce the appearance of uneven pigmentation and laser treatments may also be effective for these conditions. Chemical peels and microdermabrasion soften and rejuvenate the skin by removing old and dead layers of skin cells. This helps to promote new growth and enhanced texture of the skin. resulting in a noticeable renewal of the skin.
Individuals that notice any suspicious growths or skin patches should immediately consult with a doctor, as early detection is extremely important in treating any forms of skin cancer that may have developed as a result of sun damage.
Age spots, also known as brown spots, liver spots and solar lentigines, are a common sign of aging. Flat, oval areas of pigmentation, age spots tend to appear on parts of the body, such as the face, hands, arms, shoulders and feet, that are exposed to the sun. Most common in people older than 40, they can be freckle-sized or more than a half-inch in length, and range in color from light brown to black. When age spots are grouped together, they appear even larger.
Causes of Age Spots
Although age spots are usually caused by accumulated exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) light, they may also be the result of using tanning beds/lamps; trauma or injury; or genetic predisposition. People with light skin are more likely to develop age spots, as are those with a history of frequent sunburn or sun exposure.
Diagnosis of Age Spots
True age spots are harmless and do not require treatment. If what is thought to be an age spot appears irregular, however, a biopsy may be performed to ensure that it is not malignant. Spots with the following characteristics should be evaluated by a physician:
- Dark pigmentation
- Unusual combination of colors
- Rapidly increasing in size
In addition, spots that are itchy, red or sensitive, or that bleed, should be checked for malignancy.
Treatment Options for Age Spots
Although age spots are not medically dangerous, many people who develop them find them aesthetically unappealing. Treatments to remove age spots or make them less prominent include the following:
- Liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)
- Bleaching creams
- Laser skin resurfacing
- Chemical peels
Treatment of age spots is considered strictly cosmetic, so insurance companies typically do not cover procedures to remove them.
Prevention of Age Spots
To prevent age spots or keep them from worsening, avoiding prolonged sun exposure and regularly using a broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreen is recommended. Wearing UV-blocking clothing and a broad-brimmed hat will provide additional protection.
Antioxidants for Skincare
Antioxidants are natural substances that have significant health benefits, preventing or delaying certain types of cell damage throughout the body. Including antioxidants in the diet can help keep a person healthy, and protect against damaging free radicals; including antioxidants in skin products can increase the skin's collagen production, smooth wrinkles and fade age spots.
Benefits of Antioxidants
Whether used as treatments or preventatives, antioxidants may:
- Improve metabolism
- Prevent neurological damage
- Prevent certain types of cancer
- Prevent wrinkles and fade age spots
- Promote healing of wounds, cuts and scars
Antioxidants are found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables. They are also available as dietary supplements.
Types of Antioxidants for Skincare
Certain types of antioxidant supplements may be doctor-recommended in order to help treat various skin conditions. A doctor may also recommend dietary changes to assist in a patient's antioxidant intake. Some of the most commonly prescribed antioxidants and their skin health benefits are discussed below.
Vitamin E supplements help prevent premature aging and reduce susceptibility to sunburns from exposure to UVB radiation. This does not mean that taking vitamin E orally and applying it topically are adequate substitutes for sunscreen; however, doing so can help the skin stay healthier and more supple.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is key to the production of collagen, a protein that aids in the growth of skin cells, and helps give skin its firmness. Vitamin C also helps to heal wounds by stimulating scar-tissue formation, which helps the skin to repair itself.
Almost all B vitamins, including B1, B2, B6, B5, B7 and B12, are needed for the growth of superficial layers of skin. Deficiency of B vitamins can lead to several skin conditions, including dandruff, dry and scaly skin, dermatitis, and premature signs of aging. Vitamin B6 is frequently prescribed for the treatment of acne, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and skin lesions.
Flavonoids are naturally occurring phytochemicals found in plant-based foods such as green tea and chocolate. Flavonoids are often touted for their antiaging benefits, and their ability to absorb UV light and assist in cell turnover.
Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10 or ubiquinone, is one of the most promising antioxidants. It has been touted as a beneficial supplement for treating a variety of health conditions, including heart disease, gum disease, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. It has also been used to increase fertility and treat high blood pressure. Dermatologically, CoQ10 has been touted for its powerful antiaging and skin-improving benefits.
Lycopene is a naturally occurring type of carotenoid found in fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelons and papaya. As an antioxidant, lycopene prevents free radicals from stimulating the bone loss that naturally occurs with aging. It has been shown to promote collagen production and smoother skin. Preliminary research also suggests that lycopene provides some level of UV protection and reduces the risk of skin cancer.
Beta-carotene is part of the group of red, orange and yellow antioxidants known as carotenoids. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids provide approximately half of the vitamin A needed in the diet. Beta-carotene occurs naturally in many fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It is recommended for treating sun sensitivity in patients who have the blood disorder erythropoietic protoporphyria, and for preventing certain skin disorders, including psoriasis and vitiligo.
Considerations and Risks of Antioxidants
Antioxidants should be prescribed in consultation with the doctor. Certain antioxidants, if ingested in high doses or in combination with certain medications, may result in overdose and/or adverse side effects.
Although antioxidants are widely used to prevent cancer from developing, they can interfere with cancer treatments. Antioxidant supplements can also affect insulin sensitivity in diabetic or obese patients, and interfere with prescribed physical exercise. In those cases, antioxidant supplements should be administered under careful supervision of a doctor.
In some cases, high-doses of antioxidants are linked to health risks. For example, high doses of beta-carotene may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers, and high doses of vitamin E may increase the risk of prostate cancer or stroke.