Photoaging refers to premature or advanced aging of the skin resulting from chronic exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Sun-damaged skin, or photodamage, can stem from exposure to natural sunlight and synthetic UV light, such as from tanning beds. Over time, UV exposure can cause molecular and genetic alterations in the skin on a cellular level, manifesting in different ways, including the development of developing skin cancers, such as melanoma. Most of the natural skin changes that naturally occur as we age are accelerated by sun exposure.

Our full-service Gainesville dermatology practice is proud to provide our local community with the highest possible quality of medical dermatology and cosmetic dermatology services for treating a comprehensive range of skin conditions and skin health goals. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our dermatologists.

freckles on face due to sun damage

What Is Photoaging?

Photoaging is premature skin aging resulting from exposure to the sun’s rays over time. Over time, exposing skin to ultraviolet rays from the sun causes the skin to develop signs of aging faster. These skin changes commonly referred to as photodamage or sun damage, affect the deepest skin layers, which likewise results in changes to the skin on a cellular level. Ultraviolet, or UV radiation, exists in three groups: ultraviolet A, B, and C, which is not typically a factor affecting human skin.

UVA light is a type of solar radiation that produces sun damage skin effects on multiple levels. UVA light also damages and affects the body’s ability to produce proteins and other essential building blocks of the skin, including collagen and elastin, while harming capillaries and thinning blood vessel walls. This results in the visible appearance of blood vessels on the skin that easily bruises and bleeds. UVB light irradiates the outermost layer of the skin (epidermis), which damages skin cells and genetic factors more significantly than UVA light. Exposure to UVB light causes photoaging, the development of precancerous skin conditions, and the development of skin cancer.

What Are The Signs Of Photoaging?

Photoaging can appear anywhere on the body, though it most commonly occurs on the most visible parts of the body, such as the face, neck, chest, lips, and the backs of the hands, among other areas where skin is commonly and frequently exposed to sunlight. These areas are often subject to significant sun exposure and, as a result, they often show excessive signs of aging skin. The following are the most common signs of photoaging and sun damage on face and sun expose areas of the body.

  • Visible spider veins, particularly on the nose, cheeks, and neck
  • Pigmented lesions on the skin, such as freckles, solar lentigines (age/liver spots)
  • Uneven skin color, tone, and texture
  • Wrinkles and fine lines around the eyes, mouth, forehead, and other facial areas
  • Rough-textured or scaly lesions on the skin or sun-related actinic keratoses
  • The development and presence of precancerous skin lesions
  • A rapid increase in fine lines and wrinkles
  • Weathered, tired, and dehydrated-looking skin
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Sun-related milia, acne breakouts, and cystic acne
  • Creping & Drooping skin due to inelasticity

What Is The Difference Between Normal Aging & Photoaging?

As the skin ages, it changes. The collagen, elastin, and other essential factors for the elasticity and plumpness of youthful skin deplete, causing the skin to lose volume and sag, while developing fine lines and wrinkles. Sun damaged skin on face and body is less able to attract and retain adequate moisture and features a depleted production of natural moisturizing factors. As these deplete, the skin becomes drier. Photodamaged skin can also develop uneven pigmentation through the appearance of dark spots (hyperpigmentation) and age spots or sun spots. There are two primary types of skin aging: intrinsic and extrinsic aging.

Intrinsic Aging

As we grow older, so too does our skin. Intrinsic or chronological aging is entirely natural and an inevitable part of our normal life cycle. Intrinsic aging occurs due to certain internal factors, including genetics and hormonal changes at each stage of life.

Extrinsic Aging

In contrast with intrinsic aging, which is inevitable, extrinsic aging is generally controllable. Extrinsic aging occurs due to external factors, such as environmental conditions (sun exposure, weather conditions), lifestyle choices (whether one uses tobacco or drinks alcohol, for example), and medications, among other factors that can cause the skin to age prematurely.

What Causes Photoaging?

Photoaging is caused by overexposure to sun and accumulated sun exposure over time. When the skin absorbs the photons found in the sun’s UVB rays, they can cause direct damage to our cellular DNA. UVB rays cause our skin to burn in the sun and the damage caused by them can lead to skin cancer and other life-threatening skin conditions. While the DNA damage caused by UVB rays plays a part in photoaging, the sun’s UVA rays are primarily responsible for the premature aging of the skin.

While UVA rays also damage cellular DNA, they do so indirectly by triggering the formation of free radicals. Free radicals damage our DNA through oxidative stress. UVA rays are less intense than UVB rays, but they are significantly more prevalent and present in relatively equal intensity throughout daylight hours, year-round. As such, it is critical to apply and reapply sun protection each day, all year round, to help prevent long-term damage.

Who Is Susceptible To Photoaging?

Everyone is susceptible to photoaging. How much photodamage you sustain, however, depends on the amount of unprotected sun exposure you’ve sustained over time, your skin type, and geographical factors, such as your latitude and your local climate. In general, individuals with lighter skin tones are more susceptible to photoaging and skin cancer. People with dark skin tones can also sustain photodamage and develop skin cancer, but they are more likely to develop uneven, pigmented patches on their skin. To determine the skin’s phototype, or skin color, and assess a patient’s photodamage risk, our dermatologists use the Fitzpatrick scale, which ranges from type 1 to type 6. To learn more about photoaging and for help assessing your phototype and risk of photoaging and photodamage, contact Dermatology Associated to schedule an appointment.

  • Type I.  Individuals have pale skin, a light eye color, and blond or red hair. Type I skin always burns and does not tan.
  • Type II. Individuals with fair skin and light colored eyes. Type II skin burns easily, but may also tan.
  • Type III. Individuals with medium/light skin tones that initially burn and then tan.
  • Type IV. Individuals with light brown skin that tan with minimal burning.
  • Type V. Individuals with medium-brown skin that rarely burns.
  • Type VI. Individuals with dark brown or black skin that tans easily and does not burn.

How Do You Treat Photodamaged Skin?

While, for the most part, photodamage can be prevented, once it occurs, it cannot be removed completely. Fortunately, however, patients seeking to remediate the visible effects of photodamage on their skin may benefit from undergoing sun damage treatment customized for their unique skin health needs. Contact Dermatology Associated to schedule a dermatology appointment and find the ideal treatment for your skin!

Laser Treatment

Laser therapy can effectively treat various skin problems using different wavelengths of light on the skin with each treatment. Different wavelengths are used to minimize the appearance of blood vessels and capillaries, diminish pigmentation spots, and reduce wrinkles and lines, among other uses. With laser treatment for sun damage, the fractional resurfacing laser is used to rejuvenate the skin, reduce the appearance of dark spots and fine lines, and improve the overall appearance of enlarged pores. Pulsed dye lasers remove broken blood vessels and reduce redness caused by sun exposure. Laser dermatology treatments use state-of-the-art technology to enhance the skin’s health, improve aesthetics, and treat precancerous skin issues, oftentimes without invasive therapies.

Chemical Peels

Another popular sun damaged skin treatment, chemical peels use chemical substances, such as trichloroacetic acid or glycolic acid, to help the skin shed its outermost, sun-damaged layer. By applying a chemical peel to your skin, your dermatologist can help reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation and pigmented skin lesions, treat actinic keratoses, and improve the tone, texture, and overall appearance of skin with multiple different degrees of photoaging and photodamage. The chemical peel ideal for your skin will largely depend on your skin type, the photodamage’s extensiveness, and your treatment goals. Contact our dermatology practice for additional information about our facial peels.

Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy is an innovative photoaging skin treatment that dermatologists and skin specialists use to remove precancerous skin lesions which result from sun exposure. During this treatment process, your provider applies a special topical medication to the area to be treated and then uses a blue or red-colored fluorescent light to activate the medication. This can help destroy precancerous cells while preserving surrounding, normal cells. This treatment is also a non-invasive method for promoting natural collagen production in the body, providing the patient with a more youthful and supple appearance to their skin.

Topical Medications

Certain sun damaged skin treatment cream and topical products can help reduce the visibility of photodamaged skin and may discourage the development of further damage when used in combination with proper measures for shielding the skin from the sun. Some medications, such as a topical retinoid product (like tretinoin), can be prescribed to patients seeking to even out their skin tone and address issues with the texture of their skin as well as fine lines resulting from photodamage and photoaging.


Cryotherapy (liquid nitrogen) may freeze off the affected spots to treat actinic keratoses and noncancerous skin lesions. Several days following the patient’s cryotherapy treatment, their treated lesions darken in color and tone and, finally, fall off their skin. Contact us for more information about this and other treatment options for photoaging.

How Do I Stop Photodamage?

The best way to stop photodamage and photoaging is by following a diligent and thorough sun damage prevention routine each day. It’s never too late to practice good sun protection, and doing so can help you avoid future sun-related skin damage and skin cancers. During your visit with our dermatologists, they can recommend the best types and lines of topical and wearable sun protection based on your skin type, your skin’s needs, and your treatment plan. In general, sun protective clothing, brimmed hates, and a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 35, are recommended. Water-resistant formulas are usually recommended, particularly for children, those who sweat significantly, individuals who plan on spending time outdoors, and others. Be sure to reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours or sooner if swimming, exercising, sweating, or as needed.

How Much Sunscreen Should I Use?

When it comes to the amount of sunscreen you should use to effectively protect your skin from the sun, the greater the amount, the better (slathering on a dermatologist-approved sunscreen is just a good idea). In general, the average individual should use enough sunscreen to effectively cover their entire face and body, or 1 ounce. For most patients, the head and neck make up about 4% of their body’s surface area. As such, patients should use roughly .04 ounces of sunscreen on the face and neck, in addition to the ounce used to cover the rest of the body. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and apply more than you think you need (don’t forget to reapply!) Certain skin care products and makeup products may claim to include sun protection, though we advise against using these products as standalone sun-protection products. Instead, consider anything outside of your actual sunscreen product a bonus.

How To Apply Sunscreen To Your Face

The method you use to apply sunscreen to your face and body can help you receive the maximum coverage and protection. The most effective method to apply sunscreen to your face is to apply your skin care products, apply sunscreen, and then apply your makeup, if desired. Take the sunscreen and pour it onto your palm, then take another fingertip and dab the appropriate amount onto your face, including your cheeks, forehead, and chin, and then rub it in. Don’t forget your hairline, temples, and the area behind your ears! Next, apply sunscreen to your neck, décolletage area, and the rest of your body. Make sunscreen application part of your routine daily, whether you plan on venturing outside for a coffee or an entire afternoon.

family on beach protecting themselves from the sun

What About Sun-Protective Clothing?

Sunscreen isn’t the only thing you can use to help reduce your risk of developing photodamage, photoaging, and skin cancer. Consider covering as much of your skin as possible with sun-protective clothing. Sun-protective clothing garments carry an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). These clothes may be treated with colorless dyes or chemical ultraviolet absorbers that block UVA and UVB rays from penetrating the skin. Consider purchasing clothing labeled with a UPF factor of 30 or higher (UPF ratings range from UPF 15 to UPF 50). The higher the UPF rating on your clothing, the less solar radiation reaches your skin! Additionally, create shade with a wide-brimmed hat, as your scalp is susceptible to sun damage and skin cancer, and protective eyewear to help avoid sun-related damage to the eyes.