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Everything You Didn't Know About The Sun's Impact on Your Skin

Everything You Didn't Know About The Sun's Impact on Your Skin

Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen is a good way to protect your skin, but knowing why you need it is just as valuable. 

Our team of experienced dermatologists led by Dr. Ritchie Rosso Jr. and Dr. Robert Chappell Jr. here at Chappell Rosso Dermatology Associates and Laser & Aesthetic Center in Odessa, Texas, is taking a behind-the-scenes look at the sun’s rays and exactly what they do to your skin.

Humans’ love-hate relationship with the sun

We love the sun. It keeps us warm, elevates our mood, regulates our sleep patterns, triggers our skin to produce vitamin D, grows the food we eat, and staves off depression and seasonal affective disorder. 

But the sun has a dark side, too. It sparks and fuels wildfires, scorches crops in a drought, and it can even damage your retinas, leading to blindness. That’s just for starters. Here’s what the sun’s powerful rays can do to your skin.

The science behind sunlight

The sun’s rays come in a variety of lengths and powers. The longest are called radio waves, and they’re harmless to humans. But there’s another set of rays called ultraviolet (UV) light that causes major problems. 

UV light is actually a form of radiation, which should be enough to keep you from overexposing yourself. UV rays can be broken down further into three categories according to their length from longest to shortest: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

Most of the UVC rays dissipate in the Earth’s ozone layer before they reach your body, so they aren’t much of a threat, but the other two are troublemakers.

UVB rays damage the outer layer of your skin, but they don’t penetrate past that level. You can blame UVB rays when you get a sunburn.

UVA rays dive deeper into your dermis, the middle layer of your skin, and mess with the DNA in your cells.

How skin responds to UV rays

As the sun’s UV rays hit and penetrate your skin, your body responds to protect itself. It increases melanin production in the outer layer. You may recognize this flood of pigmentation as a tan. This might ward off deep damage temporarily, but it causes dryness, wrinkles, and premature aging. 

Plus, every individual has a different amount and different color of melanin, so you may be at a higher risk for sunburn if you have fair skin. But dark-skinned people beware — UV rays can penetrate your natural barrier, too.

Once the UV energy reaches your skin cells, it damages the DNA within them. When your cells recognize this damage, they sacrifice themselves for the greater good and destroy themselves, a process called apoptosis.

To heal the injured area, your body sends a flood of blood to the site, which results in bright red and inflamed skin — a sunburn. Over the next few days and weeks, your skin blisters and peels as it sloughs off all the dead and damaged cells. 

Unfortunately, some of those cells with damaged DNA mutate and survive. These are the culprits behind skin cancer.

How to prevent skin cancer

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to avoid too much direct sunlight. Of course, moderate doses of sun are beneficial, and we aren’t suggesting that you hide indoors 24/7. We are, however, strongly advocating for limited exposure, especially during the most intense parts of the day.

The Texas sun can ravage your skin quickly, so stay indoors when it beats down ruthlessly between 10am and 4pm. 

Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day. If it doesn’t say broad-spectrum on the label, it only protects against UVB rays, not UVA. And check the expiration date — last year’s supply may be past its prime.

Seek shade if you must go outside. If there’s no tree or awning, bring your own shade, such as a wide hat, long sleeves, and long pants. Choose lightweight fabrics that breathe, so you won’t overheat. 

Remember: It only takes five sunburns in your life to double your risk of getting melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.

If you get skin cancer

Fortunately, most skin cancers are highly treatable if they are caught and treated early. That's why we offer skin cancer screenings to detect the early signs of precancerous cells even before you can see them. 

But if you do develop skin cancer, our experienced team uses the latest technologies and a personalized treatment plan to rid your skin of the damaged cells. Dr. Rosso is also fellowship-trained in the Mohs microsurgery procedure, which meticulously removes cancerous cells while preserving healthy tissue.

To get your skin checked for skin cancer and to learn more about how to protect your skin, schedule an appointment with one of our specialists. Book online or call today. 

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