Sun damage and the ageing effect on the skin

Geelong waterfront
Geelong waterfront…

With the beautiful sunshine we have had over the weekend, and more warm weather on the way, it’s not a bad time to take a few minutes to think about the effects the sun’s rays can have on our skin.

The skin covers the entire surface of the body and has a wide range of functions.  It protects the internal tissues from trauma, UV radiation, extreme temperatures, toxins and bacteria.  It allows the sense of touch, temperature, pressure and pain, it keeps the body’s temperature stable and controls water loss.

A small amount of sunlight exposure is essential for the production of vitamin D in the skin (more about this soon!), but over-exposure to UV rays can lead to sunburn, tanning, photosensitivity and the formation of skin cancers.  While these damaging effects are becoming more well known in Australia, UV exposure is also the cause of photo-ageing, a process where skin ageing occurs more rapidly than normal.

UV radiation is classified into three different types depending on the wavelength – UVA, UVB and UVC.  UVC is absorbed by the atmosphere and does not reach the earth’s surface. UVB is the major cause of sunburn, skin cancer, delayed tanning, suppression of the immune system and may contribute to photo-ageing.  UVA can penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and is associated with skin ageing, wrinkling, immediate tanning and may also play a role in the development of skin cancer.  Both UVA and UVB can cause damage to the eye.

Other factors can affect the intensity of UV radiation.  For example, high altitudes, the time of day, the time of the year and reflective surfaces such as sand and snow can all increase the amount of skin exposure to radiation.

Some interesting facts…

  • Australia has one of the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world – 2-3 times greater than Canada, the UK and the US.
  • Two out of three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70.
  • Tanning is now recognised as a sign that DNA damage has occurred in the skin.
  • In addition to the increased risk of developing skin cancer, UV exposure can significantly accelerate the normal ageing process, including the development of fine lines and wrinkles, discolouration and the appearance of age spots on the skin, especially on the hands, arms, face, upper chest and shoulders, increased likelihood of blackheads and whiteheads, thicker, ‘leathery’ skin, dehydrated and saggy skin and loss of elasticity.
  • Photo-ageing can be minimised by following the guidelines recommended by the Cancer Council to prevent skin cancer:

Slip on some sun-protective clothing – that covers as much skin as possible

Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30+ sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.

Slap on a hat – that protects your face, head, neck and ears

Seek shade

Slide on some sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian Standards

  • The SunSmart UV Alert is a very useful tool issued by the Bureau of Meteorology ( that advises the times of the day when the UV index is 3 or above and sun protection is required. UV levels are most intense in the middle of the day, but can still be 3 or above throughout the majority of the day, especially in summer.
  • It is important to use a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB.  A great brand of sunscreen that has an SPF 50+ and also offers extremely high protection against UVA is LaRoche Posay Anthelios XL.
  • Many people don’t apply enough sunscreen and will not be protected as much as the SPF of the product states. The Cancer Council recommends applying at least a teaspoon for each limb, front and back of the body and half a teaspoon for the face, neck and ears.

Anyone who works outdoors, participates in outdoor sports, is over 50, has a family history of skin cancer, has noticed any changes in their skin or has been sunburnt should have their skin checked.

For information on skin check services you can visit Qutis Skin Clinic , Myers St Family Medical Practice or The Cottage Medical Centre

To find out more about sun protection, visit the Cancer Council’s website,


Alex Green is a compounding pharmacist who has formulated the Evergreen Skincare range of products .  The range features Australian botanical extracts and cosmeceuticals and has been designed to help prevent and reverse signs of ageing in skin that has been exposed to Australian lifestyle conditions.