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This Is What Nearly 30 Years Of Sun Can Do To Your Skin


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Lather up in a good quality sunscreen with a high SPF. Julie Falk/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Here’s a small reminder to protect yourself from the Sun, even when you’re not on holiday.

An incredible photograph from the New England Journal of Medicine from 2012 shows a 69-year-old truck driver whose face has been heavily damaged by gradual day-to-day exposure to the Sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light.


For 28 years, he had sat in the driving seat of his delivery truck, meaning that the left side of his face was more directly and regularly in contact with sunlight. This means the other side of his face remained relatively untouched by the Sun’s rays. This contrast allows you to see the difference that protection like sunscreen can make.

Long-term UVA exposure results in the thickening of the epidermis and stratum corneum, the outer layers of skin. It can also lead to the destruction of the skin’s elastic fibers, causing deep wrinkles that make you appear aged. Exposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, on the other hand, is linked to a higher rate of photocarcinogenesis, although UVA has also been linked to skin cancer.

This is what doctors describe as “unilateral dermatoheliosis”, which basically means one-sided photoaging of the skin. Using microscopic examination of the man’s skin tissue, scientists identified hyperkeratosis (skin thickening) with accentuated ridging, multiple blackheads, and areas of nodular elastosis (cyst formation).  

New England Journal of Medicine

Of course, using sunscreen can help absorb or reflect the Sun’s rays. Not only will this protect you against sunburn, it can also prevent two types of skin cancer, known as melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma, as well as aging of the skin.


However, keep your eyes peeled and check the label, as many sunscreens do not protect against UVA. UVA doesn’t cause sunburn in the same way UVB does, but as this case shows, it can result in damage to your skin and it is linked to cancers. When buying sunscreen, ensure that the label includes the term “broad spectrum” or explicitly says it protects against UVA/UVB.

So, stay looking young and lather up in a good-quality sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF), especially if you have fair skin.


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