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Why Is Sun Protection So Important As We Get Older?

senior man smiling while applying sunscreen on his head and cheeks, standing in front of a pool during the summer

As we age, our bodies go through various changes, and one area that often gets overlooked is our skin. Our skin is the largest organ of our body, and it's a good indicator of our general health. As we get older, our skin requires extra care and attention, and sun protection becomes especially important.

While many of us may have enjoyed soaking up the sun in our younger years, it's crucial to understand that the effects of sun exposure can accumulate over time, leading to serious consequences for our skin's health.


How does the sun affect my skin?

The cumulative effect of sun exposure over a lifetime can catch up with us as we age. Many people may have spent years basking in the sun without adequate protection, leading to accumulated sun damage that may only become apparent in later years. This can manifest as dark spots, uneven skin tone, and an increased risk of skin cancer.

It can also affect your skin in many other ways too.

It can exacerbate the thinning of your skin.

A change that occurs naturally with aging is the thinning of the skin. As it thins and starts to lose its elasticity, our skin can become more susceptible to bruising, tearing, and sun damage.

Sun exposure can exacerbate this thinning process and accelerate skin aging, leading to fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin.

It may weaken your immune system.

Our immune system becomes less efficient in repairing and protecting our skin when exposed to environmental damage like UV rays. UV rays can suppress the immune system's ability to fight off harmful substances in the skin, which can increase the risk of skin cancer and other skin-related issues.

It can make pre-existing skin conditions worse.

Older individuals may already have pre-existing skin conditions, such as rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis, which can be exacerbated by sun exposure. Sunburns can trigger flare-ups and worsen the symptoms of these skin conditions, causing discomfort and pain. 

Medications can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

Older adults may be taking medications or undergoing medical treatments that can make their skin more sensitive to the sun. Some medications, such as antibiotics, diuretics, and certain topical creams, can increase photosensitivity and make the skin more prone to sunburn.

Additionally, medical treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy can make the skin more susceptible to sun damage and require extra precautions.


Why is sun protection important?

Less than half of older adults properly care for and protect their skin from the sun when they're outside. Without proper care, sun exposure can cause sunburn, premature skin aging, eye damage, and can even raise your risk of getting skin cancer.


What can I do now to help protect my skin?

Given these factors, it is essential for older individuals to prioritize sun protection to safeguard their skin health. Here are some tips to help protect your skin from the sun:

  • Wear protective clothing

Cover your skin with clothing that offers adequate sun protection, such as wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants. Look for clothing with UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) labels, which indicate the level of sun protection the garment provides.
  • Use sunscreen

Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher to all exposed areas of your skin, including the face, neck, arms, and hands. Reapply every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating.
  • Seek shade

Avoid direct sun exposure during peak hours when the sun's rays are at its strongest, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Use an umbrella or find shade to stay under.


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