Although enjoying the sun’s rays and achieving a golden glow can make us feel and look good temporarily, this love affair with the sun is definitely not reciprocated.
In my busy Warwickshire Plastic Surgery practice I see a range of patients who have learnt to their cost that tanning can leave them with an array of problems, from a few wrinkles to skin damage that is potentially far more serious.
Should I avoid sun exposure totally?
The body uses sunlight to manufacture vitamin D which is essential for our bone development as it helps us to absorb calcium and phosphorus from our food. The amount of time you need to spend in the sun for your skin to make the necessary amounts of vitmain D is actually very short – there is evidence that suggests it can be just ten minutes or so a day – so that doesn’t mean abandoning good sun practice of using a high factor sun protection on any exposed skin.
What does the sun do skin?
Although we associate a bronzed complexion with a healthy and fit outdoor lifestyle, that golden glow is actually damaging the skin in profound ways. In fact, the Elizabethans got it right as a pale complexion was highly valued then, as most contemporary portraits of Queen Elizabeth I demonstrate.
In the skin cells is a pigment called melanin that works to protect the skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays – the ones that cause all the problems. Your skin tans because the body produces more melanin to combat this increased exposure to the sun and you lose your tan because of the normal cell turnover that occurs over time.
Sunburn occurs when the ultraviolet rays of the sun have penetrated the outer skin and down into deeper layers of the skin causing great damage to those skin cells.
The ageing effect of the sun
As well as affecting melanin production, the sun also damages two essential proteins found in the skin’s fibres called collagen and elastin. These two proteins are what give the skin its firmness, shape and elasticity and, as they deplete as a result of sun damage, the skin will begin to sag and stretch, causing fine lines and deeper folds, as well as a general lack of tone and texture in the skin.
The overproduction of melanin also reveals itself in the form of sun spots, freckles and areas of the pigmented skin which appear mottled and discoloured.
These changes might not be evident initially but even damage caused in childhood is just biding its time before it is revealed. At my Leamington-based Cosmetic Surgery practice, I see many patients in their fifties, forties and even thirties, seeking aesthetic treatments to combat this damage and I offer a wide range of surgical and non-surgical treatments that can improve the condition and appearance of the skin.
The danger of sun damage
However unpleasant a few lines or sun spots may be, they aren’t deadly, but sun damage can have a much more serious side. The development of pre-cancerous skin lesions (called actinic keratosis) and cancerous lesions – known as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanomas – occur when the body cannot repair damaged cells and they begin to grow out of control, forming tumours.
Much of my surgical career has been devoted to the surgical management of skin cancer and through three decades as a Consultant Plastic Surgeon I have worked with very many patients, both privately and in the NHS, in the treatment of skin cancer. For more information on the cosmetic treatments I offer privately or for a private skin cancer check or treatment, call my secretary Sally Bates on 01926 436341 to make an appointment.