What Does Sun Damaged Skin Look Like?

by: Thea Christie, January 12, 202

Years of spending time outdoors or lying beneath the sun inevitably take a toll on our skin. Dark spots, sagging skin, wrinkles and discoloration betray the hours and days we’ve spent exposed to the elements. Unfortunately for sun lovers, sun damage can age our skin prematurely and increase our risk of developing skin cancer. Read on for the most common signs and symptoms of sun damage and how to identify signs as quickly as possible.

Sun Damage On The Face: Signs & Symptoms To Look Out For

Unlike typical, chronological aging, which is determined by your age and genetics, sun damage occurs when UV light from the sun permanently changes the skin’s structure. These symptoms include:

Rough, Dry Skin Texture

After many years of UV exposure, you may develop textural changes in the skin. The symptoms include scaly patches and crusty skin that is thicker in density and raised from the surface. As stated by the American Academy of Dermatology Association, you may spot deep lines or dry, scaly patches called actinic keratoses (AKs). An AK is a pre-cancerous skin growth. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, this type of sun damage can also lead to skin cancer; an AK sometimes turns into a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Keeping an eye on any changes in your skin and consulting a doctor will help you catch any potential skin cancers early.

Wrinkles & Fine Lines

Long-term changes in the skin's collagen, which gives the skin its elasticity, can be a symptom of sun damage. These long-term changes can include fine lines, wrinkles and a thickened skin texture. Unfortunately, lengthy exposure to UV rays prematurely ages your skin and results in the loss of collagen and skin elasticity. In fact an astonishing 90% of visible aging is caused by exposure to the sun’s UV rays.  

Sagging, Loose Skin

Elastin and collagen are two proteins in the skin that deteriorate, not only due to the natural aging process, but also because of external factors over time. These factors include too much sun exposure, or lifestyle choices such as poor nutrition or excessive drinking. This breakdown of collagen and elastin production causes loose, sagging skin.

Spider Veins

As collagen deteriorates, fragile collagen structure leads to decreased pressure around the blood vessels and reduced elasticity of the skin. This change means spider veins are more likely to appear at the skin’s surface, a network of red, purple, and blue lines reminiscent of a spider’s web.

A Ruddy Complexion

It's possible for a ruddy complexion to be inherited. However, it can also be caused by excessive sun exposure. Ruddy skin is characterized by a reddish appearance and skin that looks uneven, blotchy or has broken capillaries.


Uneven skin pigmentation (or hyperpigmentation) is a broad term that refers to an uneven skin tone or dark spots appearing. When it comes to uneven skin tone, parts of the skin become discolored or darkened, caused by either sun damage or genetics. Skin pigmentation can be categorized as either a raised lesion (papule or plaque) or a flat lesion (patch or macule).

Types of hyperpigmentation can include moles. Any abnormal change in your skin is a good reason to consult a doctor to check for signs of skin cancer. A spot that was a light color when you first noticed it in your 30s can change appearance later on in life. Keep an eye on these spots, and visit your doctor if you notice changes in color or texture.

Another type of hyperpigmentation are dark spots, also known as sun spots, liver spots or lentigines. They look like extra-large freckles or flat brown spots. These form from chronic exposure to UV light, and they typically appear on your arms, legs, face, hands, neck, and décolletage. This is different from skin pigmentation issues which occur when cells become damaged, reducing melanin production. If you’ve noticed any of these skin issues, here’s how to protect your skin from further sun damage and improve the health of your skin.

How To Protect Your Skin From Sun Damage

If you want to keep your skin looking radiant and healthy long term, here are the steps you can take to protect your skin. Plus, we also have an In The Mix video breaking down the benefits of SPF and how to apply it properly for you to view.

1. Apply SPF Every 2 Hours

SPF is a preventative tool but only if you wear it and remember to reapply it. Reapply evenly and often. Sunscreen should be applied every 2 hours or more frequently if you are sweating, toweling off or coming into contact with water.

2. Regularly Check Your Body

Whenever you exit the bath or shower, check your body from head to toe to become familiar with your skin and recognize whether any new spots appear. Keep a close eye on existing spots too, noting whether their appearance alters in any way.

3. Limit Time Outdoors & Wear Protective Clothing

Restrict your time outdoors when the sun is at its peak (for example, from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in most parts of the US). The Skin Cancer Foundation says you should cover up with clothing, hats and sunscreen as well as seek the shade, especially when the sun is strongest.

4. Choose A Sunscreen With SPF 15 Or Higher

If you recognize any of these symptoms of sun damage, the first step you can take is stopping any further damage. One of the most effective preventative formulas is sunscreen. By introducing SPF into your daily skin care routine, you’re warding off the early signs of aging and other sun damage with minimal effort. To decrease the results of sun damage, regularly use a sunscreen with a broad spectrum SPF (sun protection factor) value of 15 and above. Read this guide to learn about the benefits of sunscreen and why you need to wear it every day.

5. Look For "Broad-Spectrum" On The Label

While SPF measures how well the formula protects you from UVB rays, it won’t tell you anything about protection from UVA light. That’s why the second factor to look for in a sunscreen is a label stating "broad spectrum." This label means you’re getting protection from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are what you can blame for the signs of wrinkles and fine lines. In comparison, UVB rays are responsible for sunburn and causing skin cancer.

6. Choose An SPF With Moisturizing Ingredients

If you have dry skin due to sun exposure, particular ingredients will help bring moisture back to your skin. For example, our Tropical Vanilla Day Cream SPF 40 is formulated with shea butter, a moisturizing ingredient that is high in triglycerides and fatty acids. This makes it an excellent emollient that revitalizes and repairs dry skin.  

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