Sun and Skin

Even though sunlight is good for health, excessive exposure of the sun is detrimental. Of all the organs, the skin is most affected by sunlight. There is no doubt that sun makes one skin bronzed and beautiful, but this is only a transient phase. As the sun exposure gets longer, the skin ages and becomes much more fragile.

Temporary sun exposure generally causes:

- faster aging of the skin

- more fragile skin

- spider veins on the face have been linked to excess sun exposure

- decreases skin elasticity and increases sagging

- causes thinner skin which is easy to bruise

- causes wrinkling of the skin

- leads to development of freckles

- causes sun spots (solar lentignes or liver spots)

- flat spots (macules) on the lower legs and arms

Continued exposure to sun leads to development of both benign and malignant lesions such as:

Seborrheic keratoses:
These are benign skin tumors which are seen after the 4th decade of life. The lesions look like a wart but can present in numerous colors, ranging from grey to red. They usually occur all over the face, upper arms, neck, chest and back. They are painless but may itch. They mainly come to attention because the individual complains of a poor cosmetic appearance. Classically, seborrheic keratoses appear as if they have been stuck on the skin. Many a times they are mistaken for a skin cancer and a biopsy is required to confirm that.

Actinic keratoses: These sun related skin lesions are more common in fair skinned individuals who have had prolonged sun exposure. The lesions are usually flat and may appear scaly. They have a rough skin texture. Actinic keratoses are usually seen in the later stages of life. Very rarely they may itch. Many times, these lesions disappear and reappear. Most resolve on their own but a few persist. If left untreated, about 1-3% of these lesions will develop into a skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma). In the initial stages this cancer can easily be cured, but if left alone it can spread to the rest of the body

Skin cancer: Exposure to sun is the most common cause of all types of skin cancers. The cancers typically occur on the sun exposed areas of the body. The lesions may appear like any other ordinary skin lesions and may resemble a rash, but unless a biopsy is done it is hard to differentiate. The majority of skin cancers occur in fair skinned individuals. However, the most lethal skin cancer, melanoma, also occurs in black individuals. Because of the risk of cancer, all individuals who have had prolonged exposure to sun and who develop skin lesions, need to be regularly seen by a physician.

Of all the side effects of sun, photoaging is the most common. Sun may make you look prettier and brown while you are in your youth but it definitely will make you look a lot older by the time you are past age 40.

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