Can Excessive Sun Exposure Cause Health Problems?

Laura Tolentino

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People need exposure to sunlight in order to produce vitamin D, an essential mineral for bones and blood cells, however too much sun exposure may pose serious health issues.

Sunlight can damage your skin in several ways and lead to cancer, as well as cause premature aging – including wrinkles, scaly patches and reddish or blotchy spots known as actinic keratosis (called actinic keratosis). Furthermore, prolonged UV ray exposure may lead to spider veins on the face known as telangiectasia.

Skin Cancer

Most skin cancers are caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from both sunlight and artificial sources like tanning beds, with too much UV radiation penetrating the layers of skin and damaging cells, potentially altering DNA and leading to tumors. Sunburns increase the risk of skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma in children and adolescents, with frequent sunburns particularly harmful in these age groups. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, occurs when abnormal cells proliferate rapidly to form new layers of tissue in sun-exposed areas like your face, ears and hands; or in less-sunny locations like palms of hands or beneath fingernails or toenails.

Skin cancer is the result of rapid cell division. While it can affect any area of your body, most often appearing on those areas exposed to sunlight – the face, ears and tops of feet. While all races and skin types can be susceptible, it’s more prevalent among those who spend a great deal of time outside or tanning beds.

Excessive sun exposure can have devastating consequences on the eyes, too. It can lead to conditions like pterygium (tissue growth that covers the cornea) and cataracts – conditions which could eventually lead to blindness – as well as solar urticaria – an uncommon disorder causing itchy red welts on shoulders, backs and arms that become increasingly uncomfortable over time.

Avoiding sun exposure is the key to avoiding skin cancer. That means limiting sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m, when its strength is greatest – that means winter months and cloudy days as the sun’s rays still have enough power to damage skin and cause burns and blistering. Wear sunscreen when out in the sun as this helps shield you against UV radiation and increase protection.

Sunburns

Sunburns are a sure sign of too much sunlight exposure. Sunburns occur when skin cells become damaged by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or other sources such as solariums or tanning beds, exposing the surface, inner tissues and genetic material within cells to UV radiation, which damages their DNA and causes long-term changes to structure as well as increasing risk for skin cancer.

Sunburns are most frequently caused by overexposure to sunlight between 10 am and 4 pm during its peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The sun emits ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) rays which penetrate deeply into skin layers; UVB penetrates further than its counterpart but has greater surface damage potential causing more sunburn.

UV radiation that is too intense causes red and painful patches on the top layer of skin to form, as its natural defense system, skin pigmentation, is overwhelmed. Cells in this layer begin to duplicate DNA; however, replication is disrupted as UV rays interfere with normal processes causing some cells to mis-duplicate DNA leading to death as excess DNA enters bloodstream leading to inflammation.

Sunburns take several days to fully develop, and typically experience their worst discomfort six to 48 hours postburn. To reduce pain, it is crucial that sun exposure be limited and use broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30; cool showers or baths and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can provide comfort as can drinking plenty of water as sunburn can drain water away from skin tissues and lead to dehydration.

As part of the healing process, it is crucial not to pick at flaking and peeling skin as this increases risk of infection. Moisturize the area often and avoid products containing irritating ingredients like alcohol. Finally, avoid baths or showers which are too hot or long as these could make the burn worse.

Ageing

Ageing may seem inevitable as you age, but excessive sun exposure can hasten it significantly. UV rays damage collagen and elastin fibers which support skin support – this causes leathery appearances as well as fine lines and wrinkles around mouth, eyes, neck area. Darker skinned individuals may not notice changes as significantly from sun damage but sun damage still has its impact.

Long-term UV exposure can also harm eyes. This exposure may cause pterygium, which involves tissue formation on the front of the eyelid (Mader and Tabin 2003), cataract formation or macular degeneration–two leading causes of blindness.

Chronic sun exposure can also result in broken blood vessels that manifest as red, blotchy spots on the nose and cheeks, often around the chin and neck area. This skin condition known as telangiectasia typically causes redness and rough texture on its target area; most commonly found among individuals who have had extensive sun exposure in the past.

Sun damage symptoms often include uneven skin tone, sagging skin and loss of elasticity. Sun exposure can also cause pigmentation changes including colored patches (melasma), freckles and liver spots (solar lentigines) on hands and arms; as well as small white marks known as idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis on arms and legs.

Heat from sunlight dries out skin exposed to it and depletes its natural oils, leaving behind flaky and dry patches of skin. Ground-level ozone pollution produced by automobile and truck exhausts compounds this problem by amplifying UV radiation’s damaging effects, speeding up skin aging by decreasing hydration and increasing UV penetration – this effect can be mitigated with sunscreen with at least 30 SPF to lessen its impact. Avoiding intense sunlight during midday hours (particularly) as much as possible and regularly applying SPF 30 SPF throughout life will prevent premature skin aging altogether.

Dehydration

Summer activities often include outdoor activities; however, prolonged sun exposure can deplete an individual’s body of essential fluids and lead to heat exhaustion and dehydration, a serious medical condition. In extreme cases it may result in hospital visits for IV fluid therapy; similarly dehydration can increase risk for certain illnesses including fever, sweating, diarrhea and vomiting as well as taking certain diuretics medications.

Everyday we all lose some body water through sweating, tears, breath and urine loss; usually this loss is replaced through food and drinking water consumption; however, when sick with illness or dehydrated our natural processes slow down and this rate of loss increases significantly.

Individuals exposed to hot weather or taking medications that deplete body fluids are at greater risk for dehydration. Dehydration increases heat exhaustion and heat stroke risks and could even be fatal.

Sunburns can contribute to dehydration as blistering burns cause fluid and electrolyte loss, especially when severe sunburns or melanomas result in peeling skin. This phenomenon has become particularly evident when exposed to prolonged sunlight.

If you notice signs of dehydration, such as thirst, dry mouth, dizziness or fatigue, begin hydrating immediately by drinking fluids such as water, fruit juice or non-caffeinated sports drink regularly throughout the day (10am-2pm). Try to limit activity during these peak sun hours between 10am and 2pm when possible.

Subdued sunburn and dehydration can also contribute to dry noses, leading to subsequent nasal congestion. Dehydration and extreme sunburn cause mucus membranes to thicken, leading to congestion. As such, applying sunscreen regularly is recommended in order to protect yourself and minimize the likelihood of nasal congestion after sunburns occur.