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.