In our day-to-day lives we protect our bodies from the sun by covering them with clothes. The only time we think about sun protection is when our bodies are fully exposed, on holiday, for long periods of time. But it’s important to protect body skin whenever it is exposed to UV rays, whether it’s a sunny day outside or, for example, when wearing short-sleeved tops, shorts or skirts.
In this article
How to recognise sun damage on body skin
Body skin differs from facial skin in several ways:
- The lack of direct exposure to the environment means body skin has a lower skin cell turnover rate than facial skin. There is less natural exfoliation so body skin tends to be thicker and scalier.
- The top layer of facial skin has smaller cells than elsewhere on the body. Smaller cells mean less of a barrier so water is lost more quickly from the face than the body.
- Facial epidermis is about 0.12mm thick while the body’s average is around 0.60mm. This thickness can lead to a build up of dead skin cells and bacterial growth.
Facial and body skin have different needs when it comes to sun protection. Protection for the face is designed to address the specific needs of thinner, more exposed skin. It may also contain tints to give an even complexion.
The right sun protection on the body can help prevent a number of skin conditions:
UVB rays are responsible for acute UV damage: sunburn. They penetrate less deeply into the skin but are the main cause for direct DNA damage. Unprotected skin can get red, blistered and extremely painful. This is particularly dangerous in children and adolescents as it increases risk of developing epithelial skin cancer and malignant melanomas later in life. Read more about protecting children from sunburn.
Premature skin ageing
Deep wrinkling and inelastic slack skin tissue is one of the negative effects of sunlight. Read more about premature skin ageing .
Excessive sun exposure is the number one cause of hyperpigmentation - an unpleasant skin condition that leads to dark spots appearing on skin. Read more about hyperpigmentation.
Polymorphic Light Eruptions (PLE)
Body skin that is usually covered up can react when exposed to sun – for example in spring or on a holiday, This condition, characterized by an itchy, burning rash, is known as PLE.
Acne aestivalis (also known as Mallorca acne)
Unlike Acne vulgaris, this rash of red, inflamed lesions is not caused by hormonal changes and bacteria, but by the skin’s reaction to hot sunshine and certain ingredients found in skin care products and sunscreens. Acne aestivalis is very similar to PLE and it can be difficult to differentiate between the two.
Sun protection is also important for sufferers of Atopic Dermatitis and Psoriasis as skin is already dry. Topical medications can make affected skin more susceptible to sunburn. Read more about Atopic Dermatitis or Psoriasis.
A diabetic’s skin binds water less efficiently than a healthy person’s skin does. The moisture deficiency often causes intense itchiness, which can affect the entire body. Sunlight desiccates the skin further and makes it more susceptible to infections. The reduced pain perception experienced by diabetics also increases the risk for sunburn.
There are four types of cancer or pre-cancer associated with UV rays. Actinic keratosis appears as a small, rough raised area on skin that has been in the sun for a long period of time. Some actinic keratoses may develop into a type of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It presents as open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps or scars. Squamous cell carcinoma shows as a persistent red, scaly patch that can bleed if aggravated. It is the second most common skin cancer in people of white origin. Finally, the most serious form of skin cancer is melanoma. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white.
If you have any concerns about your skin, it is important to seek professional advice from a dermatologist.
What to do to minimise risk of sun damage
The best way to avoid sun-related skin conditions is to avoid the sun wherever possible. As this isn’t always possible, or desirable, the next most important thing is sun protection. It’s important to realise that harmful rays can still reach skin on cloudy days, in the shade and in water, so awareness is needed above and beyond the hours spent sunbathing.
While sunlight has many positives – improved mood, production of vitamin D, better circulation and increased melanin production – the harmful effects of UVA rays (eye damage, immune suppression, premature skin ageing, genetic mutations (melanoma), sun allergy and sun intolerance) and UVB rays (eye damage, tanning (Asian skin), sunburn and genetic mutations/non-melanoma skin cancers) must be avoided to prevent skin damage.
The negative effects of UVA and UVB rays can be minimised by:
- Avoiding direct sun, particularly extensive exposure between 11am and 3pm.
- Using sun protection products generously and repeatedly.
- Keeping children away from direct sun exposure.
- Considering individual skin types and the implications of each.
- Covering up with adequate clothing or hats.
- Being aware of the impact of any medication on sun tolerability.
What factors increase risk of sun damage
Some people are more prone than others to sun-related skin damage and skin conditions. This can be down to a number of factors including:
- Hormonal influences
A particular kind of hyperpigmentation, known as melasma or chloasma, is most common in women as it’s thought to occur when female sex hormones stimulate the overproduction of melanin when skin is exposed to sun.
If one or both parents have had skin cancer, there is a higher chance that their children will be at risk.
The risk of cancer increases with age. Melanoma – which can appear anywhere on the body – is more prevalent in the 55-64 year-old age bracket than in younger people.
Some medications, including certain birth control pills and antibiotics, can increase skin’s sensitivity factor and susceptibility to pigmentation disorders.
- Post-dermatological treatments
Chemical peels and laser treatment can leave skin feeling red and very sensitive to the sun.
- Skin colour
People with red or light blonde hair, very pale skin tone and many freckles are most likely to suffer from sunburn and are least likely to tan.
- Existing conditions
People suffering from Psoriasis or Atopic Dermatitis tend to have dry, sensitive skin and therefore need special suncare.
- Acne aestivalis
This skin reaction mostly affects young to middle-aged women (25-40).
To find out if you are prone to certain skin conditions speak to a dermatologist.
It is extremely important to prevent and protect skin from sun damage because if damage is too severe skin is not able to repair itself and the damage becomes irreversible.
Prevention and protection creams and lotions
To protect body’s skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation:
- Use the right sun protection factor.
- Use the right amount of sunscreen.
- Apply and re-apply sunscreen every few hours to maintain skin protection, especially after swimming, sweating and towelling.
Eucerin’s sun protection body range uses a unique combination of UV filters plus the biological protection of Licochalcone A. The highly effective and photo-stable filter system with Tinosorb S protects reliably against sunburn while the Licochalcone A provides an anti-oxidant effect to protect skin cells against sun-induced damage caused by free radicals.
Sun protection has been designed to meet the needs of different body skin types:
For normal skin, Eucerin Extra Light Sun Lotion is available as SPF 30 and SPF 50 and is easily absorbed.
As well as sun protection, it is important to cool, soothe and moisturise skin after exposure to UV rays.
As well as dermatological creams and lotions, there are further ways to prevent skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation:
- Wear clothing to cover up vulnerable skin, including long-sleeved shirts and long trousers.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
- Take a sun umbrella or sun protection tent on days out. These use UV protective filters and reflective materials to minimise the effects of UVA and UVB rays.
- Eat a diet that’s rich in carotenoids (red, yellow and orange fruit and vegetables). These have been proven to strengthen the skin’s natural defences if eaten over a long period of time. There is also evidence that diets high in omega fats (olive oil, oily fish etc.), low in red meat and dairy and high in vitamins C and E and flavonoids can have a similar effect.
If you are concerned about skin damage from the sun, please consult a dermatologist.