The face, hands and décolleté are the areas of our body most exposed to UV radiation. Sun in moderation is good for our overall wellbeing. It provides Vitamin D, can have an uplifting effect on mood, improve circulation and increase our metabolism. Excessive exposure can, however, be very harmful. Sun-induced skin damage includes premature skin ageing, hyperpigmentation and even skin cancer. It is therefore extremely important to give facial skin specific and consistent protection throughout the year.
The effect of sun on facial skin
How to recognise sun damage on facial skin
Unprotected and excessive exposure to the sun’s rays can have both short- and long-term consequences, leading to premature skin ageing, immune suppression and even skin cancer. Importantly, it’s not only holiday sun that can damage skin. UV rays (UVA in particular) and HEV Light are present all day, every day – winter as well as summer and on cloudy days as well as sunny ones. As a result, facial sun protection should be considered as much a part of a daily skin care routine as cleansing, toning and moisturising.
Facial skin has different properties to skin on the rest of the body:
- It is thinner,
- It has more pores
- It secretes more lipids due to a higher numbers of sebaceous glands
- It is also exposed to the environment on a daily basis and is effected by factors such as wind, cold, smoke, pollutants and, of course, UVA, UVB and HEV Light rays. Read more about skin structure.
While body skin is often covered, facial skin is exposed to these external factors year-round. As a result, it needs to be protected from the sun with products specially designed for its needs. Read more about the effects of the sun on body skin.
UVA, UVB and HEV Light rays affect facial skin in different ways. Find out more in How the sun’s UVA, UVB and HEV Light rays affect skin.
Sensitive facial skin is particularly prone to sun damage. As sunlight has a dehydrating effect sensitive skin can become even dryer. This makes it more vulnerable to irritants, further aggravating its symptoms. It is therefore important that sun protection is specifically formulated for, and tested on, sensitive skin.
It’s important to recognise the signs and symptoms of the most common conditions:
Premature skin ageing
There is no doubt that UVA radiation is one of the most important factors in premature ageing of the skin, but HEV Light can also cause photoageing (the name given to the premature ageing of skin that is caused by the sun). Symptoms include wrinkles, loss of elasticity, age spots and rough skin. Find out more in Photoageing: the effects of sun damage on facial skin.
Polymorphic light eruption (PLE)
As little as 20 minutes of strong sun can trigger PLE, a rash that comes up after exposure to sun. The rash can take many forms including small red bumps, larger red areas and blisters. UVA rays are most commonly associated with triggering sun allergies. Find out more in Sun allergies: PLE and others.
This is a condition where dark spots appear on the skin. It is largely caused by excessive sun exposure. Both UVA, UVB and HEV Light rays can induce uneven pigmentation and may contribute to melasma.
Sunburnt skin is red and sore. It is caused by over-exposure to the sun and a lack of protection. Although the whole body is at risk, the most commonly affected areas are those that are in direct contact with harmful UVB rays such as the face, ears and the scalp in the case of thinning hair.
One of the negative effects of UVA is that it suppresses the immune system. This makes skin vulnerable to viruses such as herpes simplex, also known as cold sores. These are small blisters that develop on the lips or around the mouth.
Over exposure to the sun’s UV rays can also lead to skin cancer.
Read more about the negative effects of sun on skin.
If you have concerns about your skin, it's important to seek professional advice from a dermatologist.
How to minimise the risk of UV and HEV Light exposure
The list of sun-related skin conditions may be long but the good news is that many can be avoided by:
- Staying out of direct sun, particularly when it’s at its strongest between 11am and 3pm.
- Using sun protection products on exposed parts of the body and on the face as part of a daily face care routine.
- Using sun protection products that have been specially formulated to suit your skin type and skin condition.
- Thinking about sun protection even on cloudy days.
- Ensuring babies and small children are kept away from direct sunlight.
- Keeping eyes protected by wearing sunglasses with UVA and UVB filters.
- Protecting your head and face with a wide-brimmed hat.
- Paying attention to potential side-effects of any prescribed medication.
Read more about factors that influence skin.
Sun protection is important and shouldn’t be ignored. Despite health warnings about the dangers of over exposure to the sun, the incidence of both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers has been increasing over the past decades. The key to staying safe in the sun is to understand the risks and adjust your behavior accordingly. Make sure skin is properly protected at all times by using the shade, by covering up and by choosing the right sun protection products.
Factors that increase the risk of sun damage
There are several factors that make a person more or less likely to suffer from a sun-related skin condition.
Prevalence rates of melanoma increase steadily by age band, with 55-64 year olds over three times more prone than 25-34 year olds.
- Skin type
Children and people with very pale skin, red or light blonde hair and lots of freckles are most sensitive to the sun’s rays. Read more about skin types.
- Certain skin diseases
Rosacea-prone skin has a compromised skin barrier with increased trans-epidermal water loss and hyper-reactive nerve fibres in its epidermis. It is particularly vulnerable to external stressors - including UV rays - which can cause symptoms including erythema and red bumps.
Certain medications, including acne treatments, birth control pills and antibiotics, can increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
Research has shown that some people have a genetic predisposition to cold sores, which can be triggered by exposure to UVA rays.
- Post-dermatological treatments
Chemical peels or laser treatments can leave skin extremely vulnerable to UV rays.
How to prevent or repair sun damage
Sun damage can be extremely dangerous, so prevention is key.
Prevention and protection creams and lotions
Given the sensitive nature of facial skin, and its exposure to UV rays all-year-round, it is recommended that sun protection is applied to the face every day, and becomes part of the daily skin care routine. As sensitive facial skin is particularly vulnerable to external irritants choose a daily sunscreen that is clinically and dermatologically proven to be suitable for sensitive skin:
- Apply generously before sun exposure and reapply frequently − especially after swimming, perspiring or toweling − to maintain the original protection.
- You can use your palm to measure how much product to use. As a general rule, we recommend that, to cover your head and neck, you use a thick line of sun lotion that stretches from the inside of your middle finger down to your wrist.
- Reducing the amount of product used will lower the level of protection significantly.\
- Don’t forget your ears, lips and the back of your neck. And, if you’re bald or have thinning hair, your scalp.
- Avoid contact with eyes.
- Allow product to absorb completely.
The Eucerin sun protection range includes products that have been specially formulated to be suitable for different skin types and skin conditions. It includes products for skin that is particularly susceptible to sun sensitivity.
For oily and acne-prone skin try Eucerin Sun Gel-Creme Oil Control Dry Touch, available as SPF 30 and SPF 50+. This ultra-light formula combines an effective UVA/UVB filter system, biological cell protection and a unique Oil Control Technology with sebum regulating L-Carnitine and lipid-absorbing pigments.
For normal to combination facial skin Eucerin Sun Fluid Mattifying, available as SPF 30 and SPF 50+, which provides highly effective protection from UVA and UVB rays. It also helps strengthen skin’s own cell protection against sun-induced damage, and supports skin's DNA repair mechanisms.
Sun Creme Tinted CC Fair SPF 50+, suitable for all skin types, also contains colour pigments. This gives skin a naturally tanned tone and helps to cover up pigment spots.for a natural tanned looking skin tone, and also allows the covering up of pigment spots.
As well as using appropriate sun protection creams, lotions and oils, it’s important to remember to protect facial skin with a wide-brimmed hat whenever possible and to:
- Keep skin hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Protect eyes by wearing sunglasses with filters for UV rays.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet to help strengthen skin’s natural defences.
Read more about sun protection for body skin.