Protecting Your Skin While Outdoors

While we are currently under stay-at-home orders, I know more people are going out for walks, gardening, and spending time outdoors. This is certainly a great way to get exercise and maintain social distancing, but if you normally work during the day, you may not be used to taking the dog for a walk at 11:00 A.M. or going for a run at 2:30 P.M. This means skin protection may not be a part of your routine, and while being outdoors is wonderful, the sun is hard on your skin and can cause permanent damage. Our plastic surgeon in Raleigh is highlighting how the sun can affect your skin’s health and how you can better protect yourself.

How the Sun Damages Your Skin

The sun gives off UV radiation: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC rays are the most severe but because almost all of it is absorbed by the ozone layer, so it doesn’t affect us. UVB radiation rays are what cause most sunburns because it primarily affects the epidermis, or the outer layer of the skin. UVA radiation penetrates deeply into the skin, causing long-term damage.

While collagen in the skin does break down as we age, UV radiation speeds the breakdown up by causing a buildup of elastin within the dermis, the middle layer of the skin. As elastin builds up, the collagen breaks down, hastening the development of wrinkles, fine lines, and sagging skin.

More seriously, UV radiation also contributes to free radicals – these are oxygen molecules that have split into single atoms with an unpaired electron. These highly reactive, highly unstable atoms attack healthy cells and can change their genetic material and increasing the risk of cancer.

Complications Caused by Unprotected Sun Exposure

From mild discomfort to life threatening illness, sun exposure can cause a variety of complications.


Painful and unattractive, sunburns are the most common downside to sun exposure known for red, blotchy skin, tenderness, and unsightly peeling after a few uncomfortable days. Though most people brush off a sunburn as not being a big deal, repeated burns or serious burns that blister or cause flu-like symptoms can increase your risk of skin cancer.

Retinal Damage

Located at the back of the eye, the retina is vulnerable to damage caused by ultraviolet light. Exposure can lead to corneal damage and can raise the risk for developing cataracts.

Prevalent Scarring

Whether you’ve had surgery or a skinned knee, everyone has some type of scar. While they are unsightly to begin with, sun exposure can make them much worse due to hyperpigmentation. Hyperpigmentation occurs due to excess melanin production which causes areas to become much darker than the rest of your skin.

In addition to the skin becoming darker, the tissue can also become thicker, making it much more difficult to heal and blend in with your skin. Thickening of the skin can also make it more difficult to remove through a scar revision.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. While non-melanoma skin cancer is highly curable and makes up 95 percent of all skin cancer, melanoma is serious, aggressive, and can spread to other organs.


Protecting Your Skin from the Sun

While you probably know the basics of taking care of your skin – wear sunscreen, wear a hat, truly protecting your skin requires a bit more care.


Sunscreen needs to be applied every day, even on cloudy days as the clouds can’t block all the UV rays. Additionally, follow these tips:

  • You need a thorough covering of sunscreen to be effective. Think a shot glass full of sunscreen for legs arms, face and other exposed areas.
  • Use a lip balm with SPF 30 to protect the delicate skin there.
  • Reapply every two hours, or once per hour if swimming.

Cover Up

Protect your retinas with pair of sunglasses that offer UV protection, and protect the delicate skin on your scalp by wearing a hat.

Cover Scars

If you’ve had surgery or an injury within the past 18 months, you should cover the healing area with a bandage or clothing in order to prevent serious scarring or discoloration.

Avoid the Sun

Certain antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and blood pressure medications can make you more sensitive to the sun and prone to burning. If you’re taking a medicine that causes photosensitivity, avoid going out between 10:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M.

Contact Our Plastic Surgeon in Raleigh to Take Care of Your Skin

If you have scars that have been made worse by the sun, have areas of sun-damaged skin, or other problems, our plastic surgeon in Raleigh can help. Dr. Ortiz is a board-certified plastic surgeon who has helped countless people feel more comfortable with their skin. Reach out today at 919-532-2270 or fill out our easy-to-use online contact form below to schedule a consultation!