Beyond Sunburn: What the Sun Can Do To Skin

It's no secret that sun exposure can lead to sunburns and, eventually, skin cancer. But if there's one thing I've learned in my years of practice, it's that the immediate allure of a golden tan often trumps long-term concerns.

What many people may not know, however, is that unprotected sun exposure also has more immediately negative impacts on your health - and on the appearance of your skin:

1. Sun exposure actually suppresses your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to colds and cold sores. Talk about spoiling your summer fun!

2. Sunburn also causes your body to release cytokines, chemicals that create a fever-like sensation - so even if you aren't actually under the weather, you'll feel like you are.

3. Sun exposure can increase acne. Many patients believe the sun actually helps their acne, but after many years of practice I can testify that acne generally worsens during the summer. While sun might initially dry out oily skin, that skin will quickly compensate by producing even more oil - and more clogged pores.

4. Regular sunbathing makes you more prone to developing rosacea. UV rays break down your skin's collagen and elastin, which are the crucial supporting structures around your blood vessels. Eventually, when those blood vessels dilate (as you blush, for example) they lose their ability to shrink back down.

5. UV exposure also attacks your skin's elastic tissue, which eventually causes your skin to sag. Saggy elbows and knees are particularly tricky to treat, so don't forget them when you're slathering on that sunscreen!

6. Bothered by dry skin? The sun will only make it drier by inhibiting the enzymes that produce ceramides, one of the crucial components of your skin barrier. A compromised skin barrier is particularly troublesome in people with sensitive skin, as it can't block irritants as effectively.

7. Pigmented skin types often believe they don't need to use sunscreen regularly because they are typically less likely to burn. However, anyone prone to unwanted pigmentation - like melasma, for example - should be particularly vigilant about sunscreen use, as UV rays will worsen those conditions.

In a nutshell, sun exposure can quickly worsen the appearance of your skin. If there's one product that consistently improves my patients' skin, it's a good daily sunscreen.

Wishing you great skin!

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Dr. Baumann is author of the best-selling book, " The Skin Type Solution." To learn more about her revolutionary skin typing system, visit her Web site,

All of Dr. Baumann's recommended skin care products are available online, and a portion of proceeds goes to The Dermatology Foundation.

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