What Is Photoaging?

  • Zeina Al-Ait Master's degree, Computer Software Engineering, Lebanese University - Faculty of Sciences
  • Pranjal Ajit Yeole Bachelor's of Biological Sciences, Biology/Biological Sciences, General, University of Warwick, UK

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In the natural flow of life, we begin as babies, gradually growing into adults with distinct features. As time passes, our faces naturally change, reflecting the years gone by. However, among the various factors influencing ageing, one specific element sets itself apart: photoaging. So, how does this unique factor fit into our natural life cycle?

Ageing

As individuals get older, skin cell division slows down.1 As we age, the fat deposits in the deeper layers of our skin gradually diminish.2 This natural process results in the skin losing its firmness and elasticity, leading to the development of loose and saggy skin.2 Additionally, the reduction in fat makes lines and crevices on the skin more pronounced, accentuating the signs of ageing.2 These changes in the skin’s composition contribute to the visible effects of ageing, altering our appearance over time.2

Environment and lifestyle

The environment individuals reside in significantly impacts the ageing process, as their daily activities can either accelerate or decelerate it. Exposure to elements like pollution and harsh weather can speed up skin ageing. Conversely, maintaining a clean environment, leading a healthy lifestyle, and following a balanced diet can help mitigate these effects and slow down the ageing process.

Food

Food also plays a crucial role, having so many processed foods, sugars and unhealthy diets can have a detrimental effect on health. Eating sugary foods results in collagen becoming linked, which makes our skin less stretchy and more rigid. The more sugar we consume, the worse it is for our skin.3

Mental health

Mental well-being is a significant factor. If you’re struggling with mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression, for example, it can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and inadequate sleep, all of which can contribute to premature ageing.

Moreover, mental health issues can affect hormonal balance. For instance, prolonged stress can lead to an overproduction of cortisol, a hormone linked to ageing. Chronic stress can impair the body’s ability to repair DNA damage and maintain cellular health, speeding up the ageing of cells.

Mental health problems can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, which further accelerate the ageing process.

All these factors mentioned play an important role. Let’s discuss photoaging. 

Photoaging 

Photoaging is a term that combines “photo,” meaning light, with “ageing.” It refers to the premature ageing of the skin caused by prolonged exposure to sunlight, specifically ultraviolet (UV) rays. Photoaging is when your skin ages faster due to too much sun exposure. It leads to wrinkles, age spots, and sagging skin.

The awareness and concern about photoaging have significantly grown over the years, paralleling the rise of the skincare and beauty industry. Historically, people have always sought ways to enhance their appearance, but the specific focus on combating the signs of ageing, particularly caused by sun exposure, gained substantial attention with the emergence of skincare brands and marketing strategies.

Ultraviolet radiation UV

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun that is not visible to the human eye but is essential for vitamin D production in your body.4 It consists of three types of rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. However, only UVA and UVB rays reach the Earth’s surface, as the atmosphere filters out UVC rays.

Types of radiation

Skin is exposed to two distinct types of waves in UV radiation: UVA and UVB.5

  • UVA causes wrinkles on skin.4
  • UVB has the potential to result in sun spots, tanning, sunburns, and blistering4

Most sunlight (95%) is made up of UVA rays, which can make your skin look old and wrinkled. UVB rays, the remaining 5%, cause sunburn.5

The consequences of photoaging:

Photoaging, resulting from prolonged sun exposure, results in significant consequences.

  • Higher susceptibility to melanoma (melanoma occurs when pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) in the skin mutate and become cancerous).
  • Elevated occurrence of precancerous conditions like actinic keratosis, aggravation of rosacea. 
  • Formation of seborrheic keratosis, sun spots 
  • Loss of skin elasticity due to sun damage 
  • Appearance of spider veins (telangiectasia) refers to the development of small, dilated blood vessels near the surface of the skin6

Skin cancer 

One out of every three diagnosed cancers is skin cancer, as per the statistics provided by the Skin Cancer Foundation.7

Some personal risk factors causing skin cancer

  • Having fair skin
  • Having coloured eyes (blue, green or hazel eyes)
  • Light-coloured hair
  • Having many moles
  • Freckles
  • Family history of sub burns/skin cancer7

Irreversible

UV radiation can permanently damage your skin’s DNA, but you can still improve your skin’s appearance.6 Treatments can reduce spots, wrinkles and improve skin texture, making your skin look healthier.

We will discuss several treatment options and methods to prevent damage in the first place.

Skin care

Understanding that a daily routine is necessary for your skin from using a cleanser, toner, and daily moisturising creams, regardless of the products you use, sunscreen is the crucial factor.

Sunscreen

When people head to the beach, they often remember to put on sunscreen. However, it’s crucial to understand that sunscreen isn’t just for beach days — it’s something that should be applied every day, regardless of where you are.

Practical sun protection tips

Things you should consider before buying your sunscreen

  • An SPF rating of 30 or higher is recommended for shielding against UVB, and it’s also important to look for products with at least a 4-star UVA protection rating.8

Look for the “UVA” symbol in a circle, which means it meets EU standards for UVA protection. Use sunscreen before it expires, and don’t stay in the sun longer than you would without sunscreen.8

Applying sunscreen

Sunscreen users should generously apply sunscreen on exposed areas 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure and then reapply it to those areas 15 to 30 minutes after being in the sun.

Frequently asked questions

  1. What does SPF mean?
    Answer:
    SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It indicates the level of protection a sunscreen provides against UVB rays, which are responsible for causing sunburn as mentioned above.
  1. How much sunscreen should I use?
    Answer:
    It’s recommended to use about one ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) to cover your entire body. Apply it generously to all exposed skin.
  1. Can I use last year’s sunscreen?
    Answer:
    Sunscreen does have an expiration date. It’s best to check the label and avoid using expired sunscreen. Check if there is a change in colour or smell.
  1. Is there a difference between UVA and UVB protection?
    Answer:
    Yes, there is a difference. UVB rays primarily cause sunburn, while UVA rays can prematurely age the skin. 
  1. Should I wear sunscreen on cloudy days?
    Answer:
    Yes, UV rays can penetrate clouds. It’s important to wear sunscreen even on cloudy days to protect your skin from sun damage.
  1. Can I use makeup with SPF instead of sunscreen?
    Answer:
    While makeup with SPF offers some protection, it’s usually not enough on its own. It’s advisable to use a dedicated sunscreen under your makeup for proper protection.
  1. Can I use sunscreen on my children?**
    Answer:
    Yes, it’s important to use sunscreen on children. Look for sunscreens specifically formulated for children, and apply it generously on all exposed skin. 
  1. Can people with darker skin tones get sunburned? Answer: Yes, individuals with darker skin tones can still get sunburned and are susceptible to the harmful effects of UV rays. While they may have more melanin, which provides some natural protection, everyone needs to use sunscreen regularly.
  1. What are the signs of photoaged skin? 

Answer: Photoaged skin often exhibits wrinkles, age spots, loss of elasticity, and a leathery texture. It can also have uneven pigmentation and a dull complexion.

  1. Are tanning beds safer than natural sunlight? 

Answer: No, tanning beds are not safe alternatives to natural sunlight. They emit harmful UV rays that can damage your skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. It’s best to avoid them altogether.

Summary

Aging can take various paths, but one often overlooked and significantly impactful aspect is UV light, also known as photoaging. It’s crucial to understand this connection. Protecting your skin from the sun is essential. Be mindful of excessive exposure and apply sunscreen not just once, but multiple times a day, especially when spending time outdoors. It’s important to recognize that a combination of factors, including a healthy lifestyle, consistent sunscreen application, and minimal sun exposure, can contribute to healthier ageing. Choosing medically tested products over commercial ones is also essential. By understanding and incorporating these measures, you can significantly reduce the effects of ageing and cancer and promote overall skin health.

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 12]. Wrinkles & fine lines: types, causes & prevention. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10984-wrinkles
  2. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 12]. Wrinkles — Symptoms and causes. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/wrinkles/symptoms-causes/syc-20354927
  3. The link between sugar and ageing [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 12]. Available from: https://www.unitypoint.org/news-and-articles/the-link-between-sugar-and-aging
  4. Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 12]. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation: what it is & its effect on your skin. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10985-ultraviolet-radiation
  5. nhs.uk [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2023 Oct 12]. Are sunbeds safe? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/are-sunbeds-safe/
  6. Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 12]. Sun-damaged skin: photoaging, signs, causes & treatment. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5240-sun-damage-protecting-yourself
  7. Radiation: Ultraviolet (UV) radiation and skin cancer [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 12]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/radiation-ultraviolet-(uv)-radiation-and-skin-cancer
  8. nhs.uk [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2023 Oct 12]. Sunscreen and sun safety. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/seasonal-health/sunscreen-and-sun-safety/

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Zeina Al-Ait

Master's degree, Computer Software Engineering, Lebanese University - Faculty of Sciences

Zeina Al-Ait is a computer science graduate with expertise in health, particularly diabetes. She has authored several articles on this subject, emphasizing diabetes awareness and challenging conventional health perspectives. Zeina is currently pursuing studies in bioinformatics to expand her knowledge in the field.

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