Does Sun Exposure Age You? How to Repair Sun Damage After 40 - Amandean

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October 31, 2022 10 min read

In this article:

Why do we need vitamin D and sun exposure?
What is the best way to get sun exposure?
What about UV sun rays and aging?
What are the long-term effects of sun exposure on the skin?
Does UV exposure affect us more as we age?

 

It is often said the secret to happier days is spending at least 10 minutes a day in direct sunlight. Google the universal symbol for hope, literally, it’s giant sunshine. Just ask Stanford professor and neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, who swears by a daily 10-minute blast of direct sunshine in the morning. This daily habit will not only increase productivity and stabilize our circadian rhythm but is also a proven mood booster.[11]

But what about actual sunbathing, you know, a snooze on the beach or a full day out in the sunshine cycling, walking, or just reading in the backyard? How much guilty pleasure are we talking about here? Are the disadvantages of sun exposure not worth the bronzed hue and elevated mood?  While sun worshippers, myself included, bear the brunt of disapproval from the skincare police and SPF advocates, there are far more serious sun exposure side effects that we simply cannot turn a blind eye to. This is especially true as we age. Tick Tock.

So, where do our vitamin D needs and daily sun exposure requirements fit in our skincare regimen and overall lifestyle? It’s not all or nothing, or at least it doesn’t have to be. Let’s talk a bit more about the effects of sun exposure, both good and bad, as well as healthy ways to get enough of the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D, in your daily diet. 

Why do we need vitamin D and sun exposure?

Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is important for multiple reasons. It helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for strong bones. It also boosts immune strength  and has been shown to protect against various conditions, including osteoporosis and heart disease.[1]

Other benefits of the sunshine vitamin[1] include:

Healthy mood: Vitamin D has been linked to a lower risk of depression and also to maintain a healthy mood during months of low light.[7]

Regulating blood pressure: Vitamin D can help keep your blood pressure in check.

Supporting weight loss: Vitamin D helps the body break down fat.

Reducing inflammation: Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties.

Benefits of Sunshine

It’s important to know that vitamin D can only be produced when your body is exposed to UV rays from the sun. This means that sun exposure is necessary for optimal health - but, of course, in moderation. 

How does vitamin D production occur in the body? Let’s get into the science of it. Sunlight actually triggers a chemical reaction in the skin that converts a type of cholesterol into vitamin D3. Vitamin D3 is then transported to the liver, where it's converted into calcidiol (also known as 25-hydroxyvitamin D).[2]

This form of vitamin D (Vit D3) is what healthcare professionals measure when testing for vitamin D levels in the body. Calcidiol is then transported to the kidneys, where it's converted into calcitriol (also known as 1,25-dihydroxy vitamin D). Calcitriol is the active form of vitamin D in the body, which helps regulate calcium absorption and bone health.[2]

What is the best way to get sun exposure?

So, how do we get vitamin D from sun exposure? It’s actually not a dumb question, because remember, there are no dumb questions! The best way to get vitamin D is to spend time outside in direct sunlight, but realize, there’s a fine line between enough and too much.

  • If you're going to be spending time in the sun, whether you live in Alaska or Alabama, make sure to wear sunscreen with at least SPF 15 on your face and body. This is one of the most important factors when it comes to protecting your skin from sun damage. In fact, skincare experts will tell you to make it a no-brainer and just wear sunscreen every single day. 
  • You should also avoid direct sun exposure during the hours when the sun's rays are at their strongest, typically between 10 am and 4 pm.[4] If you must be outdoors during these hours, make sure to wear protective clothing, such as a hat and sunglasses. 
  • Get sun exposure in moderation (which is 10-30 minutes of midday sunlight for most people).[12] However, keep in mind that these requirements may differ depending on your skin type, the state you live in, as well as the altitude of your area. Check out the Sunbathing Calculator linked at the bottom of this article to get personal recommendations!

What about UV sun rays and aging?

Effects of UV Rays

Sun damage is the result of overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV rays are invisible, high-energy waves that come from the sun, and the main types are UVA, UVB, and UVC. The sun emits all three types of UV rays. However, UVC rays are absorbed by the earth's atmosphere and do not actually reach humans or impact their skin. 

UVA rays make up 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the earth. They are less intense than UVB rays, but can penetrate clouds and glass. UVA rays are the main cause of premature aging and can also contribute to the development of skin cancer.

UVB rays make up 5% of the UV radiation that reaches the earth. They are more intense than UVA rays, but do not penetrate glass as easily. UVB rays cause sunburns and can also contribute to the development of serious skin conditions. The sun’s UV rays can penetrate and damage the DNA in skin cells, which leads to premature aging like wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots. 

It is important to understand that harmful UV rays don’t only impact the skin, but also worsen existing problems like age spots, acne, and of course - sun allergy. The sun’s UV rays can also negatively affect your eyes; the lens, cornea, and retina. This can lead to cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, two common causes of many potential eye health issues.[6]

While it’s important to protect your skin from the sun at any age, it’s especially important to be mindful of sun safety as you get older. That’s because the sun’s damaging effects accumulate over time, so the older you are, the greater your risk of developing skin problems from sun exposure.[3]

There are also numerous types of sun damage, including sunburns, sun poisoning, and sun tans (sadly, yes). 

  • Sunburns, which we tend to cover in aloe vera and forget about, are the most common type of sun damage when your skin is exposed to more UV rays than it can handle. Literally, the outer layer of the dermis and sometimes even the deeper layer is burned by the sun resulting in reddening, inflammation, swelling, and even damaged skin cells. 
  • Sun poisoning is a severe form of sunburn that can cause blistering, swelling, and fever, which can last up to three days, or in more extreme cases - for weeks.
  • Sun TanningDid you know that the suntanmany of us yearn for while on vacation is the result of the darkening of the skin, the body’s attempt to protect itself from further sun damage? While a suntan may temporarily give you a “healthy” glow, it’s actually a sign that your skin has been damaged by the sun, and has put its guard up.

What are the long-term effects of sun exposure on the skin?

It's no secret that extended and unprotected sun exposure is damaging to your skin. UV rays can cause many chronic skincare problems, from simple sunburn to an increased risk of skin cancer. Hyperpigmentation, a condition characterized by patches of skin that become darker than the surrounding area, can also result from sun damage. This can occur as a result of sun exposure or sunburns, and it can be difficult to treat. 

What you may not realize is that sun exposure can also accelerate the aging process, and sun exposure is actually one of the leading causes of visible skin aging. Some of the most common signs of premature aging due to UV rays are sunspots, wrinkles, and dry skin, but sun exposure can also cause your skin to become thinner and more delicate over time. If you notice any of these changes in your skin, it's important to take steps to protect yourself from further sun damage.[3] Furthermore, the texture and the structure of the skin barrier is affected by sun exposure, sunburns, and inflammation, which can lead to skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema.

Does UV exposure affect us more as we age?

Let's talk a bit more about what happens to our skin as we age. The UV rays penetrate deep into the skin, breaking down collagen and elastin (the proteins responsible for keeping our skin firm and elastic).  Our skin's ability to retain moisture decreases, making the skin more prone to dryness. And since we’re already losing these valuable proteins as we age, the excessive UV exposure isn’t helping![5]

What's more, sun exposure can also cause the formation of free radicals, which can further damage the skin. So, if you want to keep your skin looking young and healthy, it's important to limit your exposure to sunlight, especially as you age. [3]

While chronological aging is inevitable, premature aging caused by sun exposure can be avoided. Many factors affect overall skin aging, including genetics and environmental factors like pollution and sun exposure. Some factors can only be managed, while others, such as exposure to sunlight, can (and should) be controlled.

So does sun exposure affect us more as we age? The short answer is yes. Older skin is more vulnerable to sun damage, leading to more severe sunburns, increased quantity and appearance of age spots, and even skin cancer. The skin becomes more sensitive to sun damage because it's thinner and has a decreased ability to repair itself.[10] Furthermore,  sun exposure over the years can lead to premature aging, with wrinkles and sagging skin appearing earlier.

Protect Your Skin Against Sun Damage

But don't despair! It's never too late to start protecting yourself from sun exposure. Wear sunscreen every day (yes, even on cloudy or chilly days), seek shade when possible, and cover up with clothing and a wide-brimmed hat. And down the road, you’ll be glad you did. 

And if you’re simply unable to get enough sun exposure, here’s what you can do to support your natural vitamin D production and keep your skin youthful and healthy:

Supplement with vitamin D

While vitamin D can be obtained from sun exposure, it is greatly influenced by your lifestyle, the area you live in, as well as the amount of direct sunlight you’re able to get while staying protected. This is why a high-quality vitamin D supplement can act as an insurance policy in getting enough of the important vitamin. 

But why is this important for our skin? Vitamin D helps protect the skin against premature aging and sun damage, both of which can lead to wrinkles, sun spots, and even bigger skin issues. So while sun exposure can be a great source of vitamin D, it's important to also make sure we're getting enough through other means. 

Next time you're stocking your skincare cabinet, consider adding a bottle of vitamin D supplement to your cart. Your skin will thank you in the long run!

Supplement with collagen

We all know sun exposure and aging can wreak havoc on our skin, leading to wrinkles, fine lines, and premature aging. But did you know that collagen production decreases as we age, contributing to these issues? 

Enter collagen supplements. Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies and is responsible for maintaining strong connective tissue, including skin, hair, nails, bones, tendons, and ligaments.[9] By supplementing with collagen, we can ensure we have enough for optimal skin health.

But don't just take our word for it – studies have shown[8] that taking a collagen supplement can improve skin elasticity and hydration. Increasing collagen levels will consequently promote natural elastin production in the skin, which is largely responsible for skin elasticity and firmness. So go ahead and give your skin some much-needed TLC with collagen supplementation

What's the verdict?

Sure, sunbathing is great in moderation. But too much sun exposure can lead to wrinkles, age spots, and even skin cancer. As we age, our skin naturally becomes thinner and loses some of its ability to protect itself from the sun, so it's important to wear sunscreen, cover up, and limit sun exposure, especially during peak hours. Take advantage of high quality vitamin D supplements and do your skin a favor. Your future self will thank you. 

Check out this  Sunbathing Calculator that will use your data to determine your optimal combination of sun exposure and SPF. 

Bottom line: Protecting your skin from sun exposure now can help you age gracefully and avoid potential health issues down the road. Don't let those sun rays ruin your glow. Take precautions and safely enjoy your time in the sun. 

Summary Points:

It’s important to know that vitamin D can only be produced when your body is exposed to UV rays from the sun.

You should avoid direct sun exposure during the hours when the sun's rays are at their strongest, typically between 10 am and 4 pm.

It is important to understand that harmful UV rays don’t only impact the skin, but also worsen existing problems like age spots, acne, and of course - sun allergy.

Older skin is more vulnerable to sun damage, leading to more severe sunburns, increased quantity and appearance of age spots, and even life-threatening skin conditions.

A high-quality vitamin D supplement can act as an insurance policy in getting enough of the important vitamin.

References:

  1. Devje, S. (2013). 3 Surprising Benefits of Vitamin D. Retrieved from Healthline website: https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/benefits-vitamin-d
  2. Wacker, M., & Holick, M. F. (2013). Sunlight and Vitamin D: A global perspective for health. Dermato-endocrinology, 5(1), 51–108. https://doi.org/10.4161/derm.24494
  3. Flament, F., Bazin, R., Laquieze, S., Rubert, V., Simonpietri, E., & Piot, B. (2013). Effect of the sun on visible clinical signs of aging in Caucasian skin. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 6, 221–232. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S44686
  4. US EPA, O. (2018, November 26). Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation and Sun Exposure. Retrieved from US EPA website: https://www.epa.gov/radtown/ultraviolet-uv-radiation-and-sun-exposure
  5. American, S. (2018). Why does skin wrinkle with age? What is the best way to slow or prevent this process? Retrieved from Scientific American website: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-skin-wrinkle-wit/
  6. van Kuijk F. J. (1991). Effects of ultraviolet light on the eye: role of protective glasses. Environmental health perspectives, 96, 177–184. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.9196177
  7. Depression and Vitamin D Deficiency. (2022, January 12). Retrieved from Healthline website: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/depression-and-vitamin-d
  8. Al-Atif H. (2022). Collagen Supplements for Aging and Wrinkles: A Paradigm Shift in the Fields of Dermatology and Cosmetics.Dermatology practical & conceptual, 12(1), e2022018. https://doi.org/10.5826/dpc.1201a18
  9. Elliott, B. (2018, April 6). Top 6 Benefits of Taking Collagen Supplements. Retrieved from Healthline website: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/collagen-benefits
  10. Skin gets thinner as people age. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2022, from https://connect.uclahealth.org/ website: https://connect.uclahealth.org/2022/07/29/skin-gets-thinner-as-people-age/
  11. Blume, C., Garbazza, C., & Spitschan, M. (2019). Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood. Somnologie : Schlafforschung und Schlafmedizin = Somnology : sleep research and sleep medicine, 23(3), 147–156. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11818-019-00215-x
  12. Raman, R. (2018, April 28). How to Safely Get Vitamin D From The Sun.Retrieved from Healthline website: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-from-sun



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