What is Photoaging? Understanding the Main Cause of Premature Skin Aging

Most of us look at the skin’s natural process of aging with a hint of dread as fine lines and wrinkles begin to appear, perhaps we notice sagging in areas of our face that used to be taut, or areas of darkened pigmentation appear. In response, we look for skin care products and professional treatments that can help minimize what we view as the inevitable aging process. But just how “inevitable” is it? Consider that many of the visible signs of aging are not caused by time alone. Rather, repeated exposure to the sun is one of the main causes of premature aging, called “photoaging.” However, it's simple to avoid. Read on to learn more. 

What is Photoaging?

Let’s first understand how photoaging works. The skin is composed of three main layers:

  • The epidermis - the external layer
  • The dermis - the middle layer, where beneficial skin proteins, like collagen and elastin, are made.
  • The hypodermis - the innermost layer, comprised mainly of adipose tissue, connective tissue, nerves and blood vessels.

The sun's UVB rays are relatively short and when they penetrate the skin, they reach only to the bottom of the epidermis. When this happens, cells located in the bottom of the epidermis, called melanocytes, begin to produce melanin. This gives skin a tanned appearance, which is intended to protect the skin from UV radiation. These rays are also responsible for sun burned skin. Over time, exposure to UVB rays can leave skin with hyperpigmentation in the form of sun spots and freckles, as well as moles and even skin cancer. 

The sun's UVA rays, however, can penetrate more deeply, to the dermis layer. Here, UV radiation can break down collagen and elastin fibers, which are responsible for giving skin its smooth and youthful appearance, and shut down new collagen synthesis. Essentially, the dermis layer breaks down, leading to "imperfect" skin repair. Over time, this process results in visible changes to the skin: it becomes wrinkled, rough and loses volume.

Prevention is Key

While some degree of photoaging is inevitable if you plan to venture outdoors, there are steps that can drastically minimize the degree to which you experience photoaging. The key is to be prepared for the sun and prevent damage as much as possible. 

  • On a daily basis, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects skin from both UVA and UVB rays. The minimum SPF you should consider is 15. For more on finding the right SPF, read "Is SPF 15 Enough? Understanding Sun Protection Factor."
  • Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed areas of skin approximately 30 minutes before going outdoors. For convenience, consider using a daytime moisturizer that contains SPF, such as Lexli Day Moisturizer with SPF 15.
  • Make sure you're using enough sunscreen! The average adult needs one ounce of sunscreen - an amount equivalent to a shot glass - to get the protection advertised by the product.
  • Sunscreen will wear off, so don't forget to reapply it at least every two hours, or sooner when sweating or after swimming. 
  • Don’t be fooled by cloudy or overcast days. Most of the sun’s UV radiation can still get through, even in the winter months. When possible, seek shady places and make a habit of wearing a hat with a protective brim. Sunbathing without sunscreen and the use of tanning beds should be avoided altogether. 

Finally, if your skin already wears the signs of photoaging, read more about How to Repair Sun-Damaged Skin.

Simple Skincare, Beautiful Skin: A Back-to-Basics Approach

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