While it may appear only temporary, the damage that can come from excess sun exposure can have serious, long-lasting effects on both your skin and overall well-being. This is thanks to ultraviolet (UV) radiation — the invisible rays associated with the energy that comes from the sun. These beams of light are powerful enough that they can easily penetrate the skin, wreaking havoc on your health. From the increased risk of skin cancer to developing signs of premature aging, UV rays are no joke. That’s why it’s critical to show your skin a little extra TLC this summer by educating yourself on the symptoms of sun-damaged skin.
Believe it or not, sun-kissed and sunburned skin is not the same thing. Sure, they both may involve exposing your skin to the UV rays, but the health risks affiliated with a sun-kissed glow are typically much less damaging compared to the negative implications of an irritating, toasty-red sunburn. When your skin is sun-kissed, your complexion may be slightly darker and a few freckles may occur, which indicates that your dermis—the middle layer of your skin— has been slightly impaired.
When your skin gets sunburned, on the other hand, the DNA damage becomes much more mutated. In turn, this causes your body to naturally respond by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the affected areas of your skin. Thus explaining the redness, irritation, and heightened sensitivity that most of us experience when we get too much sun. Needless to say, skipping out on the sunscreen is never a good idea. For optimal protection, apply it as the last step of your daily skincare routine and reapply as needed. If and when you do acquire a sunburn, you’ll want to make sure you apply a thick layer of moisturizer all over your body to further soothe the skin and avoid peeling.
2. Pins & Needles Sensation
Of the many consequences that come from getting sunburned, the pins and needles sensation— otherwise known as “hell’s itch” is one of them. Medical News Today describes it as an unrelenting itch that can keep people awake at night and persist for days while the skin heals. The science behind this sun-damaged symptom isn’t exactly clear, some researchers believe that the severe itching relates to damage or aggravation of a person’s nerve endings brought on by excessive UV exposure. Given the fact that the skin has nerve endings that send signals to the brain about itching or pain, it’s no wonder why many scientists suggest that the pins and needles sensation arises in response to their nerve endings sending rapid itching signals throughout the skin’s healing process.
Regardless of where hell’s itch comes from, the pins and needles sensation is anything but pleasant. If you’ve recently gotten sunburned and are feeling this type of pain, don’t worry! Even if you don’t seek expertise from a healthcare provider, there are still a few simple remedies out there that can help speed up the recovery process of itchy, sunburned skin. Anecdotal treatments such as cold or hot showers, for example, can work to ease the itching pain and provide relief. Additionally, anti-inflammatory treatments such as aloe vera and over-the-counter (OTC) medications like ibuprofen can also be effective for relieving discomfort.
3. Premature Aging
When the skin becomes damaged at a cellular level and DNA mutation occurs, it makes it harder for skin cells to renew themselves and produce collagen. Because of this, many people with sun-damaged skin will begin to notice signs of premature aging. Whether it be the development of dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles, or changes in skin elasticity, the link between UV exposure and early signs of aging is clear. In fact, several studies have allowed us to further unravel the connection between the two, finding that 80% of all visible signs of aging are related to UV exposure. Yikes!
Fortunately, photoaging — the medical term for premature aging— can be prevented and even sometimes reversed with the right skincare products. Aside from using sunscreen and other SPF cosmetics, you can also use anti-aging creams that contain tretinoin to help improve the appearance of photo-aged skin. Tretinoin works to speed up the skin cell turnover process, making it easier for your skin to replace old dead skin cells with fresh, new ones. Nevertheless, prescription retinoids can make your skin more sensitive, especially in sunlight. Be sure to consult your doctor first before learning about usage and application tips.
Hyperpigmentation is characterized by darkened patches or spots on the skin that arise when your skin produces more melanin— the pigment that gives your skin its color— in some areas of your skin, but not in others. Although this skin concern isn’t directly caused by the sun, excessive exposure can exacerbate the condition, leading to the development of liver spots (or aging spots), worsening health conditions like melasma, and darkening of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation spots.
If you have hyperpigmentation, it’s especially important to be cautious of the time you spend under the sun. Remember to always protect your skin, especially on your face, hands, and upper back as these areas tend to be exposed to the sun more often than not and act as a breeding ground for liver spots. Beyond that, consider treating hyperpigmented areas with chemical peels because this cosmetic procedure can actually work to reduce the appearance of dark patches by removing them from the epidermis— the outer layer of your skin. Depending on the severity of the condition, you may choose to use an OTC chemical peel or receive an in-office peel from your dermatologist. As always, seek guidance from a healthcare professional before purchasing or applying any new treatment products.
Linda Green is a content creator who in her spare time enjoys nature walks and a good book.