The effects of the sun on the skin



Premature ageing of the skin

Sun damage to your skin can result in the development of fine lines and wrinkles, discolouration and textural changes. These cosmetic effects of sun damage can make your skin look prematurely aged and visibly damaged.

Fine lines and wrinkles

After years of sun exposure, the inner layers of the skin thicken and their ability to retain moisture is reduced. This can lead to the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Lines and wrinkles are general signs of ageing but our skin tends to age faster when we expose it to sunlight for long periods of time. Although lines and wrinkles themselves are not dangerous, premature skin ageing caused by sun exposure can be a marker for certain skin cancers.


The overactivity of tanning cells (melanocytes), caused by years of sun exposure, can result in the development of brown freckles, the growth of lesions known as solar lentigines and the appearance of small white marks about 2-5 millimetres in size, which are particularly common on shins and forearms.

Textural changes

Sun damage can also lead to changes in the texture of your skin – the way it feels when it is touched.
Years of sun damage can lead to the outer layer of the skin becoming thinner, meaning it easily blisters, tears and grazes.

At the same time, long term sun exposure can lead to the thicker, inner layers of the skin losing their elasticity. This can lead to the development of yellow, thickened bumps on parts of the skin that have endured the most sun exposure, like the back of the neck and hands.

Vitamin D

Small amounts of sunlight will increase vitamin D levels and keep your bones healthy. But spending too much time in the sun exposes the skin to ultraviolet (UV) radiation which can cause skin damage that can lead to skin cancer.

Vitamin D comes from two sources: UV rays from the sun and our diet.

To help meet your vitamin D needs the World Health Organisation recommends getting 5 to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure to hands, face and arms two to three times a week during the summer months.  However, skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland.  It is mainly caused by the same UV ray that is needed for our body to produce vitamin D.

Never increase your risk of skin cancer to meet your vitamin D needs, so

  • Never let your skin redden or burn
  • Never use a sunbed to increase your vitamin D levels
  • Take extra care when in the sun if you have fair skin because fair skin burns more quickly when exposed to UV rays

Always Remember

  • Cover up - Wear a t-shirt, long shorts and a hat that gives shade to the face, back of neck and ears
  • Seek shade - Especially from 11am to 3pm
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses - Make sure they give UV protection
  • Wear sunscreen - Using sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and UVA protection

Find our more form the Irish Skin Cancer Society

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