The sun and your skin

Living in Australia, we know how important it is to take care of our skin. We endure high UV levels all year-round and lead the world in skin cancer rates.

We also spend over $1 billion every year on skin aesthetics, with many of us undergoing topical skin therapies every month and over 38 per cent of Aussie adults considering a non-invasive cosmetic procedure in the next 10 years.

But many of the skin problems we are trying to erase – from pigmentation and poor texture to wrinkles and volume loss – come from the harm we have done to our skin through a lifetime of unprotected sun exposure.

So, what if we could prevent our skin from developing these costly-to-fix and often irreversible aesthetic problems in the first place? What if we could prevent the need for regular skincare treatments and cosmetic procedures?

We can – through proper sun protection. And it’s never too late.

Why does the sun cause skin problems?

A lot of skin concerns – including early signs of ageing and potentially deadly skin cancers – start with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can be divided into UVA rays and UVB rays. UVA rays are blamed for photo ageing, while UVB rays cause skin cancer.

Learn more about how the sun ages our skin.

UVA accounts for more than 90 per cent of the ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth and can actually penetrate through windows and cloud cover. UVA rays have a longer wavelength than UVB which allows them to penetrate deeper into the skin’s layers, and cumulative exposure destroys the skin’s collagen and elastin, leading to premature ageing.

You might be thinking that you haven’t been sunburnt in a long time so you have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, you don’t need to get sunburnt for skin problems to develop, as everyday sun exposure is enough to damage your skin cells in as little as 10 minutes – driving your car, exercising your dog, hanging out the washing, gardening, or simply walking to the bus stop.

Did you know? 
Just five severe sunburns in your lifetime doubles your risk of melanoma.

The effects of cumulative sun exposure might not appear on your skin until years later, which is when the problems start.

What skin problems does sun exposure cause?

Sun exposure significantly increases your risk of developing skin cancer – a potentially deadly disease diagnosed in one Australian every 30 minutes – and pre-cancerous skin lesions like actinic keratosis and Bowen’s disease. It also causes premature ageing, like:

  • Pigmentation, including brown spots, freckles and patches of darker skin
  • Wrinkles and lines
  • Broken capillaries and redness 
  • Uneven skin texture and rough or scaly patches of skin
  • Moles

How to look after your skin

1. Sun protection

Adequate sun protection every single day is the number one way to prevent these problems from developing. Most of us are familiar with the age-old motto “slip, slop, slap”:

  • Slip on a shirt
  • Slop on SPF30+ sunscreen
  • Slap on a broad-brimmed hat
  • Slide on sunglasses
  • Seek shade
  • See your doctor regularly for skin checks
  • Stay indoors when UV levels rise

Learn more about how to be sun-safe.

Top tip: 
Apply self-tanner or a tinted moisturiser instead of getting a tan.
Every time you tan, you prematurely age your skin because

the harmful UV rays accelerate how quickly your skin ages.

2. Skin monitoring and professional checks

It’s important to get to know your own skin. Remember what’s normal and what’s different for you. If something pops up that is new or changing, get it checked. Self-monitoring in between your routine full-body skin examination with your doctor is the best way to catch sun damage and skin cancers in their earliest stage when they have the best chance of successful treatment and cure.

All Australian adults should get a comprehensive skin check every year, or more often if they are at high risk of skin cancers as indicated by their doctor.

3. Stop smoking

4. Wear sunglasses

In addition to protecting your skin cells, sunglasses will also shield your eyes and prevent wrinkles caused by repetitive squinting.

5. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet

6. Drink less alcohol

7. Stay hydrated

8. Get some exercise

9. Develop a skincare routine tailored to you

Keeping your skin clean is important for removing the pollution, dirt, makeup and other irritants that can build up and cause aesthetic skin problems. Work with a dermal clinician to determine what intervention your skin requires to stay healthy which might include regular cleansing and moisturising, or a combination of serums – but everyone’s skin is unique so the regime will depend on your lifestyle and personal skin needs.

It's never too late

While a lifetime of sun exposure can’t be undone, it’s never too late to prevent more damage from occurring. Adopting sun protection measures later in life is better than never. Even people who already see signs of premature skin ageing can benefit from making lifestyle changes, learning new sun-safe habits, and preventing problems from worsening.

Full skin cancer checks and professional aesthetic treatments are available at our skin clinics to address all the problems the sun may cause you.