Part of the sun's energy that reaches earth is composed of rays of invisible ultraviolet (UV) light. When ultraviolet light rays (UVA and UVB) enter the skin, they inflict both visible and invisible damage to the skin cells.
Sunburn is a visible type of damage, which appears just a few hours after sun exposure. In many people, this type of damage also causes tanning. Freckles, which occur in people with fair skin, are usually due to sun exposure. Freckles are nearly always a sign that sun damage has occurred, and therefore show the need for sun protection.
Of the invisible damage to skin cells, some is repaired but some adds up year after year. After 20 to 30 years or more, the built-up damage appears as wrinkles and age spots. Although window glass blocks UVB light, UVA rays are able to pass through it.
Susceptible persons (light skinned, easily burned) playing or working outside in strong sunlight should be protected by clothing or sunscreen.
Sun exposure during youth is a risk factor for certain skin cancers, including melanoma. Chronic sun exposure is also associated with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC). Severe burns, especially those that blister, increase the risk.
Because risk increases according to total lifetime sun exposure, older people are much more likely to develop actinic keratoses.
Of all factors that contribute to wrinkle formation, none surpasses the destructive force of excessive sun exposure. Shunning the two distinct yet equally harmful UV rays – A and B – is the first step to maintaining youthful skin. UVB rays are responsible for visible sunburn, yet UVA rays are just as damaging, even though they cause little skin redness. This type of radiation penetrates the skin, causing cellular damage that accumulates slowly over a period of time. UVA rays induce the formation of free radicals, which attack the skin's lipids. The resulting damage gives rise to visible signs of aging such as wrinkles and leathery skin.
Drinking four or more cups of green tea each day may help stave off skin cancer. This substance could be similarly effective if incorporated into skin care creams, but the quantity and consistency of EGCG (active compound found in green tea) should be questioned.
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