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What Is Photoaging?

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  • Written By: Archana Khambekar
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 14 December 2014
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Photoaging is the damage that skin can suffer from exposure to sunlight over the years. The appearance of wrinkles and dark spots, leathery texture, and sagging of the skin are among the harmful effects caused by sun’s radiation. Besides over-the-counter skin products, prescription topical creams, and procedures such as skin resurfacing are available to temporarily reduce some of the signs of photoaging.

Sun exposure is one of the extrinsic factors that can age the skin. The signs of aging that could result from sun damage include looseness of the skin, coarse texture, fine veins showing up on the face, development of lines and wrinkles, and appearance of brown lesions and age spots. Sometimes actinic keratoses, which are thickened patches of skin, might form in parts not protected from the sun.

Sun rays can damage the skin in various ways, and it can occur under the surface of the skin years before the signs of aging are apparent. Frequent exposure to sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation may accelerate the aging process. The skin may lose moisture and natural oils, which can contribute to dryness and premature wrinkling. The sun’s radiation can damage the underlying fibers that provide the skin elasticity.

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At a deeper level which is the dermis, UV rays may bring about lasting changes in the collagen that supports the skin and gives it firmness. Increased break down of collagen is one of the significant factors in photoaging. Damage to the collagen often leads to wrinkles. Ultraviolet radiation can injure the fine blood vessels under the skin, and increase the tendency to bruise in the areas bared to the sun. Exposure to UV radiation may damage the skin through different mechanisms such as the generation of unstable free radicals that contribute to aging, and by hindering the DNA repair process of the cell.

The extent of damage to the skin from the sunlight can vary. Photoaging could be mild, moderate or more severe. Skin that shows slight changes in pigmentation but no wrinkles would be considered to have mild photodamage. While skin that is considerably wrinkled, with discoloration, and noticeable capillaries is assessed to have suffered more severe photoaging.

Some people are more susceptible to the skin damaging effect of the sun. Typically, people with fair skin, light eyes, and blond hair, are more likely to be affected by the sun’s radiation. Such individuals tend to have less melanin, a dark pigment in the outer layer, or the epidermis that guards the skin from sunlight. Certain medications and skin care products could raise the risk of sun damage to the skin.

Taking simple precautions can help reduce one’s exposure to harmful UV radiation, and thus limit photoaging. A general recommendation is to stay out of the sun during the 10 a.m. to 4p.m. period when sun rays are most intense. As a sun safety measure, it is advisable to use a SPF-30 sunscreen that protects the skin from UV- A and UV- B rays. Wearing a broad brimmed hat and clothing that covers the skin adequately can help lessen sun exposure.

Skin care treatments are available that can help lessen the visible signs of UV damage that have already occurred. There are non-prescription creams with fruit acids and antioxidants that include vitamin A, C and E that might make wrinkles less noticeable. A dermatologist may recommend a prescription topical cream which contains a vitamin A derivative, such as tretinoin to decrease pigmentation, skin roughness, and wrinkling.

Procedures that take off the surface sun-damaged layer of the skin, and let fresher skin replace it are among the options. Various procedures for aging skin include chemical peel, dermabrasion, laser treatment for resurfacing the skin and promoting collagen growth. Among the treatment choices for photoaged skin is injection of botulinum toxin (Botox) and fillers such as hyaluronic acid or collagen to temporarily minimize wrinkles and help the skin appear younger.

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