What You Need to Know About Photodamaged Skin
You know that excessive sun exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer, but you may not know the extent to which sunlight can damage your skin, even without cancer development. This damage is known as photodamage.
In this blog, we cover the basics of this condition as well as current methods of treatment.
What Is Photodamage?
Photodamage is a type of premature aging, sometimes referred to as extrinsic aging. Photodamage occurs over long periods of time due to exposure to harmful UV rays. The UV radiation affects the collagen fibers in the skin. Damage to collagen results in a loss of skin elasticity, which results in the early appearance of wrinkles and other age markers.
Photodamage falls into one of the following three categories.
Color: Color photodamage results in skin discoloration, either to a section of skin or to large portions of an individual’s skin.
Dermal: Dermal photodamage affects the upper layers of skin, primarily through changes to collagen. These effects are generally cosmetic, but easily
Epidermal: Epidermal photodamage impacts the inner layers of skin. This type of photodamage can develop into cancerous lesions if left untreated.
Individuals may experience any combination of these three types, but are more likely to develop epidermal photodamage in cases of extreme UV exposure over a number of years.
What Are the Signs of Photodamage?
Photodamage looks different on every individual. However, the signs of photodamage are most likely to appear on the face, but may occur anywhere that the skin has had significant chronic sun exposure.
Photodamage that is not on the face is most likely to affect the chest, back, upper arms, and legs. Photodamage rarely occurs in areas that are usually covered when in sunlight, such as the underarms and stomach.
Most individuals with photodamage exhibit some or all of the following signs:
Abnormal skin texture, including pebbling
Deep or excessive wrinkles
Large amounts of freckles or other spotty discoloration
Permanent skin darkening, especially darkening that has a leathery quality
Redness and inflammation
Sagginess or a lack of elasticity
Visible blood vessels
Some individuals may also notice that they bruise more easily since photodamage makes the skin more fragile overall.
Epidermal photodamage may not have obvious visible signs. If you have color and dermal photodamage symptoms, it’s important to have a dermatologist evaluate whether you have sustained epidermal damage as well.
Who Is at Risk for Photodamage?
Photodamage occurs solely due to UV exposure, so the biggest risk factor for this condition is exposure to sunlight. Always wear sunscreen when going outdoors for long periods of time. Limit or avoid sunbathing as an additional precaution. Sunburns can cause rapid photodamage, but remember that photodamage can occur even if you don’t tan or burn in response to long-term sun exposure.
Your risk factors for epidermal photodamage and cancerous complications are the same as your general risk factors for skin cancer, which we listed in our previous blog, “Worried About Skin Cancer? Know Your Risks.”
Can Photodamage Be Treated?
The best treatment for photodamage is actually prevention. As mentioned in the previous section, you should wear sunscreen when spending time in direct sunlight. Additionally, wear protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat.
Once photodamage has developed, the visible effects may not be able to be entirely reversed. Topical and dietary treatments can reduce the visibility of photodamaged skin and may discourage the development of further damage.
To further reduce the appearance of photodamage and prevent the development of epidermal damage, your doctor may also use any of the following techniques:
Chemical peels, which remove damaged skin and improve the health of new skin
Fillers (also called soft tissue augmentation), such as Botox
Laser resurfacing, which uses laser light to undo some of the UV light damage
Micro-dermabrasion, which removes damaged skin through gentle abrasion
Radio frequency treatment, which uses radio waves to counteract some of the existing photodamage
The success and availability of these treatments may depend on the extent of the photodamage to your skin. More intense damage may not be able to be corrected or may require several procedures to show improvement.
Because no two individuals’ skin responds the same to these treatments, your doctor may try multiple treatment methods before finding a routine that provides the results you’re looking for.
If you have photodamaged skin, consult with a reputable dermatologist. This aging may be unsightly or embarrassing, but it also indicates that you are at higher risk of skin cancer development. It’s important to have routine screenings and to start treatment to slow or stop the photodamage process.