You can’t watch TV or scroll through social media without being warned about the dangers of sun exposure and the critical need to slather on sunscreen. Although those warnings are accurate, there’s more to the story.
The sun sustains life, provides warmth, and creates light — not only are those all good things; they’re essential things. So, why are we told that the sun is bad for our skin?
Here to explain, our team of board-certified providers at Easton Dermatology Associates, serving folks throughout Easton, Stevensville, and Salisbury, Maryland, takes a closer look at how the sun helps and harms your skin.
The benefits of sunshine
That joy you experience when you see the first rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds and signaling the start of spring is more than just an emotional response.
The sun boosts your mood
The long Maryland winters with their shorter, darker days take a toll on your mental health by inhibiting your body’s production of the hormone serotonin. When your serotonin levels drop dramatically, you may experience seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression.
But when the sun comes back out, your retinas take the cue and tell your body it’s time to start amping up serotonin production again, which boosts your mood. That’s why light therapy is often used to treat some types of depression.
The sun helps build your bones
To build and renew your bone cells, you need a good supply of vitamin D. To make vitamin D, your body needs sunlight. To be specific, it needs the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. If you were to stay indoors and never receive any sunlight, you’d have to get your supply of vitamin D from food and supplements alone.
Studies show that you can increase your own production of this bone-building vitamin by spending a little time outdoors and exposing your skin to the sun. But be careful, you only need about 5-15 minutes of exposure on your face and arms a couple times a week. Beyond that, use sunscreen.
The sun may prevent some types of cancer
While the sun is notorious for causing skin cancer, it may ward off other types. Researchers have found a correlation between increased sun exposure — and the resulting boost of vitamin D — and a decreased risk for certain cancers, including colon, breast, prostate, and ovarian.
How the sun helps your skin
Although the sun gets blamed for triggering skin cancer — and rightly so — in controlled doses, sunlight can actually help heal certain skin conditions.
For example, UV radiation can treat the symptoms of eczema and psoriasis. In fact, at Easton Dermatology Associates, we often use light therapy to reduce the inflammation and scaling caused by these skin conditions.
Vitiligo, a skin condition that causes patchy depigmented areas on your skin, often responds well to light therapy, too.
How the sun harms your skin
For all the good it does, excess sun exposure does a number on your skin. Here are the most common ill effects:
- Dry skin
- Premature aging
- Benign tumors
- Freckles and sun spots
- Broken capillaries (telangiectasias)
When you spend a lot of time in the sun, the rays penetrate your skin and reach into the deeper layers, wreaking havoc along the way. The UV rays tear down elastin fibers, causing your skin to stretch and sag. They also deplete your store of collagen, so your skin thins out and loses its youthful contours.
Most importantly, UV rays damage your DNA. When your DNA changes, skin cells grow abnormally — and abnormal cell growth means cancer. Specifically, sun exposure puts you at risk for basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
The good news is that our team at Easton Dermatology Associates can treat your sun damaged skin with a variety of methods from lifestyle changes and medications to cancer removal using the latest technology and techniques.
The relationship between the sun and your skin is complicated. We can help you navigate the dos and don’ts and treat whatever damage you may already have. Schedule an appointment with one of our experts by calling 410-819-8867 to book a visit at any of our three Maryland locations.