Unfortunately, those of us in the upper decades of life knew little about the risks of sun damage beyond the need to avoid serious sunburn in our younger years. Many teenagers like me swam, hiked, cycled, and played sports in minimal clothing while the sun tanned or burned our skin. We covered ourselves in baby oil for a rich tan. And many of us, including myself, haven’t made it into adulthood with sun protection habits that could have prevented the now painfully visible skin damage.
Given that the risk from ultraviolet light to healthy skin is now widespread, I am amazed at how many people visit tanning salons or use tanning beds at home today, damaging the healthy skin barrier that nature has given us.
Fortunately, the new study suggests that more people can better understand and respect the effects of the sun on their skin and look forward to a healthier future, said Dr. Sangeeta Marwaha, Sacramento dermatologist and co-author of the study. Among people who took part in the study in 2018, the risk of developing skin cancer was two-thirds the risk of study participants in 2008 who were followed for the same number of years.
“There has been an increase in sun protection habits and a consequent decrease in skin cancer development,” said Dr. Marwaha in an interview. “Parents today are more likely to protect their children from excessive sun exposure, and the use of sunscreen is now widespread.”
But there is still a long way to go. Fostering a healthy respect for sun protection in young children is especially important, as experts estimate that 80 percent of a person’s lifetime sun exposure is acquired before the age of 18.
Repeated exposure to ultraviolet sunlight causes most skin changes – wrinkles, age spots, and tiny broken blood vessels – that are generally considered a normal result of aging. Yes, aging does play a role, but these effects appear much earlier in life on sun-exposed skin. UV light damages the elastin fibers in the skin, causing them to stretch, sag, and fold. It also damages surface blood vessels, making them more fragile and easily crushed.
And Zachary W. Lipsky, a biomedical engineer at Binghamton University, found that UV radiation weakens the bonds that help the cells in the top layer of skin stick together, damaging the structural integrity of the skin, and making it more susceptible to infection .