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The 5 Biggest Ways the Sun Is Damaging Your Skin

Chances are, you’re already aware that the sun isn’t so great for your skin. And that itself is a bit of an understatement: Did you know an estimated 90% of skin aging is caused by the sun? And that doesn’t even factor in skin cancer. (It’s a shame, truly, considering how blissful it feels to bask in the warm sunshine.) But we’re not saying you never should. You simply have to safeguard your skin in order to defend against sun damage.

What exactly does sun damage look like, though? We all know sunburn as the telltale sign that the sun did you wrong, but sometimes the sun’s negative effects on the skin can show up later in life or as a legit medical concern, such as a suspicious, potentially cancerous mole. That — or they’re simply less polarizing than a painful red patch that lasts for days. With that said, we’re breaking down all the different ways sun damage manifests itself.

The Most Common Forms of Sun Damage

“Sun damage can occur in many different ways and show up on the skin in different ways as well,” says Marisa Garshick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. Sunburn, she explains, is far from the only way that the sun can harm our skin, and most often, the damage is happening on a deeper cellular level so we don’t see any visible effects until later on in life.

Much of the damage is the work of free radicals, which are those unstable molecules that try to stabilize themselves through a process called oxidation. Oxidation can have a ripple effect throughout the skin, which can lead to some less-desirable results.  Here are some of the most common forms of sun damage, a.k.a. photoaging.

Dark Spots

The thing about dark spots is sometimes they’re super-subtle — even freckles can technically be considered dark spots. But how do they actually occur as a result of the sun? Take it from Garshick: “When it comes to dark spots, UV exposure triggers melanin production,” she says. “Over time, this can lead to certain areas of skin developing localized spots of increased melanin, which in turn leads to pigmented sun spots.” In addition to your face, these speckled areas can show up anywhere on the skin, including your hands (which are heavily exposed to the sun during activities like driving) and the rest of your body. 

Fine Lines and Wrinkles

“With cumulative exposure to UV radiation, there can be an increase in matrix metalloproteinases, which are enzymes that are known to break down collagen,” explains Garshick. “This can lead to increased signs of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, and skin laxity.” Translation: Collagen is one of the major building blocks of our skin that keeps it plump, smooth, and firm — similar to scaffolding — so when it’s depleted by factors like sun exposure, it results in accelerated aging. You’ll thank yourself for protecting your skin sooner rather than later. 

Texture Changes

Guess what? Collagen loss can also lead to unexpected changes in our skin’s texture and tone, according to Garshick. Additionally, cumulative sun exposure can break down elastin in the body, too — which impacts the skin’s elasticity and, over time, can cause the skin to appear crepe-y and wrinkled. 

Barrier Damage

A strong barrier is key to healthy skin — no surprise there — but when it’s disrupted by UV exposure, this can lead to dryness and irritation of the skin, as well as sensitivity. “While this can occur in a more obvious way when someone develops a sunburn, it can also occur cumulatively with sun damage over time,” explains Garshick. For instance, if you’re someone who spends a lot of time outside without SPF, you may notice your skin become increasingly sensitive or reactive to new products — which you might recognize as sensitized skin. That, or your skin may become drier and more textured, with less ability to hold onto water. 

Precancerous Spots

“While the sun can impact skin aging, it can also play a role in the development of skin cancer and precancerous spots known as actinic keratoses,” says Garshick. “UV exposure can lead to DNA damage, which subsequently leads to the development of skin cancers in certain individuals.” Both UVA and UVB can be responsible for DNA damage, she adds, which is why it’s essential to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen formula that defends against both types of rays.

How to Properly Protect Your Skin From the Sun

Dark spots, skin texture, dryness — it sounds bleak at best. However, the best part of sun damage is that there are excellent ways to prevent it. As Garshick mentioned, using a broad-spectrum formula is crucial, as both UVA and UVB rays are responsible for the aforementioned forms of photoaging. Not only that, but reapplication every two hours is key, especially if you’re going to be outside during peak daylight hours.

We also recommend using a little more than your moisturizer for both your face and neck, so be sure not to skimp or it won’t do its job. With the Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Sunscreen SPF 50, you won’t want to. It combines powerful chemical and physical UV filters with nourishing ingredients, such as — you guessed it — niacinamide, as well as hyaluronic acid, amino acid-rich watermelon extract, and soothing aloe. Niacinamide was an obvious pairing, as it offers multiple different benefits, including reducing hyperpigmentation and pore size as well as brightening the skin.

The unique hybrid SPF glides on featherlight and sheer, and one applied, the non-greasy formula sinks completely into the skin and looks invisible, yet still leaves a fresh, dewy finish. You’ll also get bonus protection when you pair your sunscreen with a vitamin C serum, such as Guava Vitamin C Dark Spot Serum. Vitamin C and sunscreen have a synergistic effect, and together they can guarantee even tone and protect collagen and elastin. It’s true: A study found that the combo of sunscreen and antioxidants can reduce the formation of free radicals by 78% compared to broad-spectrum sunscreen alone.

The bottom line? With the right products in hand, you can defend your skin against sun damage — and keep your skin looking its best while you’re doing so.

Keep reading about how SPF impacts skin:


Glow Recipe

Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Sunscreen SPF 50


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