A is for ageing, and B is for burning. There are two key types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB light. Both ravage the skin, damaging its DNA, provoking cancer, and accelerating wrinkles, sagging, and other signs of ageing. UVA has been dubbed the ageing ray because, over time, the damage it does to the dermis produces wrinkles and pigment changes. UVB, the burning ray, triggers inflammation and dilates blood vessels, i.e. sunburn. Any time you get tanned, it means you’ve damaged your skin. Your body tries to defend against the “attack” by increasing the production of melanin pigment. It acts as a UV filter, to shield the skin from photo damage.
Skin fights back. As sunlight penetrates your skin, it attacks your DNA. UVB attacks DNA directly. UVA also damages cells and DNA but penetrates even more deeply, which is why it’s dubbed the silent wrinkler, as it goes much deeper than the other rays to cause a delayed tan, delayed wrinkling, and delayed skin cancer. These rays injure a number of cells, including fibroblasts, which produce collagen and elastin. The skin’s stress response system signals an alert and defensive cells rush in to undo the harm, but the result is never quite like new. As well as this, both types of UV appear to eventually suppress the immune system, which may be a factor in melanoma, the most serious kind of skin cancer.
Sagging sets in and pigmented spots appear on the skin’s surface. Gradually, collagen breaks down and becomes disorganised and abnormal elastin increases, so skin loses its stretchiness and becomes looser, even saggier, less resilient, and more wrinkled. Production of melanocytes, skin’s pigment producing cells, becomes erratic, making the skin tone uneven, blotchy and spotted.
UV rays also encourage the creation of new blood vessels, which may give you a sprinkling of telangiectasias, spidery red spots, and help skin cancers form. Skin usually thins with age, but regularly sun-exposed skin on the back of your neck and décolletage will get thick and leathery as a defensive reaction to UV light.
With all this taken into consideration, next time you want to lay in the sun to get that summer “glow” from tanning, decide if the danger that you put your skin and health in is really worth it.