Sun Damaged Skin

The consequences of sun damage (aside from the temporary sting of sunburn) are initially invisible and are sometimes hard to comprehend. The truth is, as much as 90 percent of wrinkles, brown spots, and sagging skin what we usually think of as aging an be attributed to sun damage. What is worse, skin cancer is now the most common cancer, striking more and more people each year.

If you are still tempted to head out the door without sun protection, stop to consider what's going to happen to your skin. Melanin, the protective pigment found in the epidermis, defends the skin against sun damage by absorbing the sun's rays and dissipating the energy as heat. The more sun exposure, the more melanin the skin produces, which results in a suntan sign that ultraviolet UV rays have already damaged the skin. If sun exposure continues, the UV rays will damage cells and blood vessels in the outer layer of skin, causing the redness and painful inflammation of sunburn, actually a minor burn.

The UV rays that are not absorbed by melanin may prompt the formation of free radicals, destructive scavenger molecules. Because free radicals lack electrons, they attempt to steal electrons from other molecules, damaging the molecules in the process. Free radicals that get inside a cell can damage the cell's genetic material and cause mutations, and they may even trigger cancer.

However, the damage does not stop there. Urocranic acid, a chemical found in the epidermis, also reacts with ultraviolet light. The reaction also creates free radicals, which then break down the collagen and elastin in the skin, causing wrinkles. In addition, the sun's rays are thought to decrease immune system function within the skin, meaning that any invading organisms have a better chance of causing infection.

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