The worst consequence of long-term exposure to the sun is the development of skin cancer. Too much UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds can damage the genetic material (the DNA) in your skin cells. If enough DNA damage builds up over time, it can cause cells to start growing out of control, which can lead to skin cancer. Because the sun damage to the skin develops over the years, the older you are, the greater the risk of developing skin cancer.
After years of exposure to the sunlight, providers look for three common types of skin cancer (in order of how often they occur): basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. Cumulative sun exposure causes mainly basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, while episodes of severe sunburns, usually before age 18, can raise the risk of developing melanoma.
This type of skin cancer almost always occurs on sun-damaged skin and is usually pink, shiny and raised. Doctors have noted that basal cell carcinoma is especially common in the beard area of men where they use a razor and take the top off cancer.
Although BCC doesn’t generally spread, it does get bigger and deeper over time and can become a problem if ignored. Basal cell carcinoma is a very slow-growing type of non-melanoma skin cancer. This type of skin cancer needs to be treated and has a high cure rate. If left untreated, basal cell carcinomas can become quite large, cause disfigurement, and in rare cases, spread to other parts of the body and cause death.
Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs), also known as epidermoid carcinomas, comprise a number of different types of cancer that result from squamous cells. These cells form on the surface of the skin, on the lining of hollow organs in the body, and on the lining of the respiratory and digestive tracts.
In a small number of cases, SCC can spread to the lymph nodes and rarely to other organs. These can vary in severity and may require special surgical treatments, such as Mohs Surgery, for removal, if they are large or in difficult-to-treat areas. Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is usually not life-threatening, though it can be aggressive. Untreated, squamous cell carcinoma of the skin can grow large or spread to other parts of your body, causing serious complications.
Melanoma is the least common of these skin cancers, but it is increasing every year, especially in young women between the ages of 18 and 29 because of the high rate of tanning bed use in this population. Melanoma is very dangerous and can occur in any place where there are pigment-producing cells, include the entire skin, moles, birthmarks and the eye. It does not have to be in direct sun-exposed areas, but sun exposure increases the risk.
It can spread to lymph nodes and beyond to other organs, including the brain, lungs, and liver. Melanoma is much more common in families with a history of abnormal moles or malignant melanoma. Those who have had melanoma have a significant risk of developing other melanomas, so doctors recommend regular skin checks.
23. Why are Tanning Beds More Harmful Than the Sun?
A common misconception, promoted by the tanning bed industry, is that tanning beds are safer to use for tanning than direct sun exposure. Many teens will tan before prom to look good in their dress clothes, but many doctors say, they aren’t doing themselves any favors. Tanning beds put out UVA light that is much more intense than what you receive outdoors because it does not work as efficiently as UVB light.
UVA goes significantly deeper into the skin than UVB and not only causes skin cancer, but it causes more leathery wrinkled skin. In the United States, research shows more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer each year are attributed to indoor tanning. Studies have shown the risk of malignant melanoma is much higher in people who use tanning beds.
One of the main environmental factors that ages our skin is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. In fact, it’s estimated that 90% of skin aging is due to the effects of the sun! The sun causes proteins in our skin to deteriorate, leading to the loss of our youthful appearance over time. We associate wrinkles with aging, but sun exposure is a significant factor in their development and how early they appear. UV light damages collagen and elastic tissue in the skin, so it becomes fragile and does not spring back into shape, causing sagging.
The ultraviolet rays from the sun penetrate into the skin. There, they damage the elastic fibers that keep skin firm, allowing wrinkles to develop. Sunlight is also responsible for age spots or “liver spots” on the hands, face, and other sun-exposed areas. The only factor worse than UV light exposure for aging and wrinkling is cigarette smoking, which causes the skin to become yellowish and thick with deep wrinkles. Some people will also get white cysts and blackheads on the cheekbones from sun exposure and smoking. UV light exposure also causes white and dark spots on the skin, as it damages the surface cells.
Much of the damage to our skin caused by sun exposure can be prevented. If you are going to be outside for long periods, sit under a cover of a building, an umbrella or a tree that has dense shade underneath. The Kansa Medical Center says “The best way to get just enough sun exposure to get the benefits, but not so much to suffer the harms caused by sun rays, is just to expose your skin for the sun some time, and then cover the skin by clothes”.
Sun protection tips include:
Avoid the sun during peak hours of 10 am – 2 pm.
Wear clothing with UPF protection (ultraviolet protection factor) UPF 50+ helps block 98% of UVA/UVB rays.
Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
Always apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outdoors, even on a cloudy day
While too much of the sun’s warm rays can be harmful to your skin, the right balance can have many benefits. When natural sunlight hits the skin it triggers the body’s production of vitamin D. It protects against inflammation, lowers high blood pressure, helps muscles, improves brain function and may even protect against cancer. Another important effect of sunlight in the early morning is the production of serotonin.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that, in moderately high levels, improves your mood and encourages a calm, focused mind. If serotonin levels drop, and melatonin levels are proportionately too high, feelings of tiredness, grogginess, and irritability are common and will only aggravate any feelings of stress you may be experiencing. Research has proven that natural lighting helps people be more productive, happier, healthier and calmer. Just be sure to use caution when enjoying the sun.