About skin damage caused by sunlight
Some sun exposure within safe levels can be beneficial because our skin uses it to produce vitamin D, which can reduce your risk of developing a number of cancers and is also important for bone health. However, too much sun is harmful and can damage your skin, putting you at serious risk of skin cancer. It’s important that you get a balance between reducing your risk of skin damage from burning and enjoying the benefits of the sun.
The sun gives out ultraviolet (UV) radiation that is made up of three types of rays: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC rays from the sun can't get through the ozone layer but UVA and UVB rays can. UVA can cause wrinkles, and UVB can cause sunburn and skin cancer.
Short-term skin damage
A tan is actually a sign that your skin has been damaged and is trying to protect itself. UV radiation stimulates your skin to produce more pigment (colour), which protects against damage. Your tan will fade, but the damage to your skin remains.
Short-term overexposure to the sun can burn your skin, usually making it red, hot and painful. People often think that sunburn is only a problem when sunbathing but it can also happen when you are out and about in the sunshine, such as playing in the park or gardening.
You can soothe sunburnt skin with general lotions such as aqueous cream, aloe vera lotion or other after sun lotions. If your sunburn is severe, you may need medical treatment.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke
Heat exhaustion is when your body becomes overheated after too much sun or by getting sunburn. You may have the following symptoms:
- a headache
- feeling or being sick
- feeling faint or dizzy
- heavy sweating
- hot skin
- high temperature (between 37 and 39˚C)
Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which can be fatal if it’s not treated.
Long-term skin damage
Ageing and infection
Ageing of your skin is a result of the UVA rays penetrating it, causing wrinkles and sagging. UV rays can also cause damage to the eyes. Too much sun exposure may even damage your immune system, increasing your risk of becoming ill.
The exact causes of skin cancer aren’t fully understood at present, however your risk of skin cancer increases if you have exposed your skin to UV rays by spending a lot of time in the sun. You may also be more likely to get skin cancer if you have fair skin.
There are two types of skin cancer – melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma skin cancer is the most serious form, but it can be treated if found early. Getting badly burned can increase your risk of melanoma, especially as a child.
There are different types of non-melanoma skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Your risk of BCC is increased if you had repeated sunburn, especially as a child. You may be more likely to get SCC if you are exposed to sun throughout your life, for example if you work outdoors.