Sun damage explained

Did you know that unprotected sun exposure is the No. 1 cause of premature skin ageing? In this article, find out what sun damage is, learn how it affects the skin and discover ways to prevent and reduce it.


UV radiation is part of the light spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. It has wavelengths shorter than visible light, which are classified as UVA and UVB rays. Both types of radiation damage the skin in different ways. Ultraviolet B (shortwave) rays are responsible for burnt, red skin, while ultraviolet A (longwave) rays can penetrate deeper into the skin and cause DNA damage.

Consequences of sun damage

Sun damage has short and long-term consequences. An immediately visible sign of sun damage is sunburn. In a mild form, this appears as red, inflamed skin that feels warmer than usual. In more severe cases, it is accompanied by blisters, as well as nausea and dizziness. In short, sunburn can be very serious.

The more long-term consequences of unprotected sun exposure include dry, dull and uneven skin tone. The sun can dry out skin and deplete its levels of essential fatty acids, leaving skin looking and feeling dry, flaky and rough. Sun damage also slows down the rate of skin cell renewal, causing a build-up of old, dead skin cells that result in dull, congested skin.

One of the most obvious, long-lasting signs of sun damage is discolourations (either dark spots or more diffuse, patchy hyperpigmentation) due to sun exposure. The brown spots come about because UV light triggers excess melanin production within skin. In the absence of broad-spectrum sunscreen, skin overproduces melanin to protect itself from sun damage. For many people, the excess melanin is produced unevenly and concentrates in smaller areas, causing stubborn pigmentation marks. The resulting dark spots require powerful, skin-evening ingredients to fade hyperpigmentation and help skin return to its natural colour.

Sun damage can destroy the collagen and elastin in your skin too. Collagen is a protein that retains the firmness of your skin and elastin is the support fibre that allows skin to bounce back. Collagen and elastin degradation in the deeper skin layers can result in premature signs of skin ageing, such as wrinkles and fine lines, because your skin loses its elasticity and firmness. Making matters worse, unprotected sun exposure also diminishes skin’s hyaluronic acid content, leading to thinner, more fragile skin.

While the effects of sun damage are mainly cosmetic, it can become a serious threat to your health when it causes skin cancer. Repeated sunburn and unprotected sun exposure increase the chance of various forms of skin cancer, which is why sun protection is so important.

Protect your skin from sun damage

Prevention is better than cure, so make sure you protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun every day. It’s never too early (or too late) to start using an SPF. In fact, the older you get, the harder it is for your skin to repair the effects of sun damage, so the sooner you start the better. On an average day, your SPF should last without the need for re-application. But if you’re going to be outside for long periods of time or sweating a lot, you will need to re-apply your SPF regularly to ensure you are getting full protection. Also be mindful that some medication can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

Reduce visible sun damage

Although it’s not possible to completely repair sun damage, the right skincare products plus daily use of broad spectrum sunscreen can bring about significant visible improvement.

  • AHA exfoliant: Exfoliates the skin's surface, helping to fade pigment spots and reduce dry skin. Your skin tone will look more even with a healthy glow.
  • Retinol: Stimulates the natural cell renewal process and reduces wrinkles and skin discolourations caused by the harmful effects of the sun.
  • Vitamin C: Reduces brown spots, helps brighten skin and protects against damage caused by environmental pollution.
  • Antioxidant serums: The powerful antioxidants in these serums protect skin against environmental damage and boost the efficiency of your SPF product for sun protection.
  • Discolouration treatments: Once daily use of a leave-on product that contains ingredients proven to fade dark spots and patchy discolourations can improve this concern within weeks.

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