What Is Photoaging or Photodamage?


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Photoaging is the term given to the natural aging appearance of skin over time, caused by exposure to daylight or artificial light containing UV light (such as light from sunbeds or from exposure during UV light therapy treatments).

Does UV Light Cause the Skin to Age?

Photoaging is the response of the skin to sunlight. Sunlight exposure (from the exposure to UV light within sunlight) results with the appearance of wrinkles and lines. Other signs of skin aging are;

  • changes in skin colour
  • visible blemishes called lentigines or sun spots (brown discoloration of the skin appears visible like freckles)
  • keratoses (overgrowth of skin also termed actinic keratosis (AK)) visible as small, rough, scaly lumps on the skin can be up to 2-3 cm at largest and of any colour)
  • Telangiectasia (narrow blood vessels at the skins surface more extensively covering than thread veins/spider veins- can be treated with laser therapy) may also develop as a result from aging, alcohol or genetics.

This process of visible aging of the skin is classified into categories according to visible signs. For instance those with no wrinkles are classed as a stage or type I of photoaging. The scale increases until type V is reached.

Predominantly UVA causes skin aging and UVB causes some types of skin cancer such as basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). However both UVA and UVB light can cause skin cancer as a consequence of repeated sun burn/over exposure.

How or Why Did My Skin Age?

UV light from the sun can directly kill skin cells (by self-destruction of skin cells called apoptosis). After UV light exposure collagenase a protein naturally produced by your body can destroy the collagen in your skin. Collagen maintains the skin elasticity, skin thickness and strength. Fibroblasts that produce collagen also die as the skin ages and so less collagen is produced and skin is thinner. UV light depletes molecules from the dermis (deeper layers of skin) that maintain healthy skin such as vitamin E, vitamin C, glutathione, and CoQ10. UV light can also penetrate inside the cells to the damage or distort the DNA structure, termed thymine dimer formation. This is also associated with the development of skin cancer; however cancer doesn’t always result because this distortion can be repaired by your cells.

Why Has My Skin Aged Much More Quickly Compared to My Siblings?

The way that your skin ages depend on the genes inherited from your parents or more simply the skin type that your parents have passed onto you. The way that your skin type and other characteristics are passed on is completely random. Therefore your sister or brother may have completely different skin types compared to you. They may be more similar to just one parent or a complete mix of both parents skin types. Genes regulate the way our skin is coloured and respond to damage. Genes that result in your skin having lots of freckles, lack of tanning, blue eyes or red hair and lots of birth marks or moles often result in increased risk of skin being harmed in response to sunlight or UV exposure. Therefore if you have all of the attributes listed yet your sibling, brother or sister has skin that tans easily, along with dark eyes and no freckles or moles they may have a lower risk of skin damage, such as photoaging and skin cancer.


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