Sun exposure has positive benefits to our physical and mental health, but when most people consider UV light and its effects, skin cancer and premature aging are the first to come to mind. There is no question that exposure to the sun and other sources of UV light, like tanning beds, damages the skin. That’s why most dermatologists and public health officials recommend taking steps to avoid sun exposure and protecting yourself with sunscreen on exposed skin whenever you leave the house, even in the wintertime. Spots, blotches, uneven patches, discoloration and wrinkles are all signs of the sun’s damage to your skin.
Whether you call them wrinkles, laugh lines or crow’s feet, they are a sign that you have spent time in the sun. UV damage from sun exposure, even from long ago, speeds up the wrinkling process by damaging collagen and elastin, the fibers that keep skin firm.
While sunburns may last only a few days, they can create skin problems later in life. When you have a mild sunburn, UV rays penetrate into the epidermis and your skin turns red and may feel painful and warm to the touch. Mild sunburns may feel itchy and the skin may peel. If your skin blisters, you have a bad sunburn. Sun damage that results in sunburns, damages the molecular structure of skin cells, resulting in cells more likely to become cancerous later in life. If you have severe pain or a fever accompanying your sunburn, make sure to seek medical advice.
Bateman’s purpura is an eponym for easy bruising on the hands and arms. Typically it is found on the sun exposed upper extremities in patients who are over the age of 60. It has also been called senile purpura or actinic purpura. Bateman’s purpura is due to easy bruising for capillaries that have been damaged from repeated sun exposure without sunscreen or sun protection. Usually the bruising resolves in 2-3 weeks but new ones will develop as old bruises fade. While Bateman’s purpura is not precancerous, individuals who have this condition are considered to be at greater risk for skin cancer. Sun protection is the key to prevent further worsening of this condition. A recent paper suggests that topical vitamin C, when formulated correctly, can improve the collagen and decrease bruising when used for 3-6 months.
Actinic keratoses are skin lesions that are common in older adults who have had many years of sun exposure and damage. They are rough, scaly, asymmetrical patches of skin or raised bumps with a wart or horn-like appearance. Actinic keratoses most commonly show up on the face, scalp, ears, neck, arms and hands, which are most commonly exposed to the sun. The lesion can be dark tan, red, pink or the same color as your skin. Sometimes they are itchy, but usually are painless. They can also come and go. Actinic keratoses are considered precancerous and your doctor will want to watch for changes in them and may consider removing them.
Actinic cheilitis is a type of actinic keratosis that arises on the lips. Like actinic keratoses, actinic cheilitis is considered precancerous. If your lips are frequently dry or split, don’t assume it’s just chapped skin. Or you have a white, scaly spot on your lower lip, get it checked out by your doctor.
Also called liver spots, these small, flat, dark spots look almost like large freckles, and are most common in people over the age of 50. Sometimes age spots will appear as a tan spot that you will first notice in your 30s and will turn brown or dark brown in your 40s and 50s. They occur when the sun’s UV rays stimulate the production of melanin in the skin, which is why age spots most commonly appear in places that have sun exposure, such as the back of the hands. They often appear in clusters. Generally age spots are benign, but you should keep an eye on these spots and tell your doctor if you notice changes in texture, a sudden darkening or an irregular shaped border. Age spots can also be lightened if you find them unsightly.
Typical moles are symmetrical, are all one color and do not grow. Atypical moles, or dysplastic nevi are asymmetrical, have uneven borders and may be more than one color. They’re not cancerous, but they predispose a person to melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It is important that your dermatologist monitor any atypical moles.
Rosacea is a very common condition that causes skin, especially skin on the cheeks and nose, to turn red. The blood vessels beneath the skin also become visible and may be accompanied by tiny bumps that resemble acne and irritated eyes. The sun’s rays are powerful enough to harm the small blood vessels under your skin, causing these red blotches and bumps. The skin on the nose of some thickens over time, which leads to a condition called rhinophyma. Rosacea usually comes and goes, but after time can stick around. It is most common in light skinned women between the ages of 30 and 60. While rosacea can be triggered by sunlight, it can also have other triggers, such as wind, spicy foods, alcohol and emotional upset.
Poikiloderma of Civatte
Also known as sun aging, this benign condition causes the skin on your neck and cheeks to develop a reddish-brown color. Generally, these colored patches are painless, but some experience itching and mild burning.
If you suspect sun damage, come see us at Adult & Pediatric Dermatology for a consult or treatment of your sun-damaged skin. Contact our office today at 913-469-1115 to schedule an appointment.