Skin Sun Damage

General Information

The skin and its appendages, principally the hair and the nails, are susceptible to aging. The commonest of all of the aging changes, gray hair, is an example of a skin appendage change. Many factors may affect the speed of the aging process in the skin. Exposure to sunlight speeds aging changes in the skin more than any other factor.

Aging in the skin produces thinning with some loss of pigmentation. The skin decreases in flexibility, and it may become more fragile and bruise more easily. The blood vessels in the skin may become dilated and visible. These are called telangiectases. Some hair loss may occur, and sweating may decrease. The skin becomes dryer. Wrinkling becomes prominent.

Some of these changes seem to be accelerated with sun exposure. Sun exposure may produce spots of intense pigmentation, often called liver spots, and areas of thickening called keratoses. Sunlight exposure is called actinic exposure. It may induce the development of cancer.

Important Points in Treatment
Preventive measures should begin in childhood with limitation of sun exposure. Protection with clothing, hats, sunscreens, and behavioral modification should become the norm. Most of us grew up at a time when a "healthy" tan was desired and sought. As a result, substantive damage from sun exposure has already occurred for most elderly patients. This is only minimally reversible, but further damage can be prevented by adopting protection against sun exposure. It is never too late to begin a program of sun protection to limit further damage.

Improvement in skin changes can occur with skin protection. Some kinds of changes from sun exposure improve with the use of tretinoin. The degree of improvement is limited, but it is real. This preparation has side effects. You should consult your physician for its use.