What does the sun do to your skin?

Doesn’t everyone love a natural tan, beautifully skin-kissed and post-holiday glowing? But what exactly happens to your skin when exposed to the sun's alluring rays? Well, get ready to uncover the fascinating effects of sunlight on your skin.

While the sun provides us with warmth, vitamin D and a gorgeous glow, it also poses several risks. Read on to discover the consequences of prolonged sun exposure – and how to preserve your skin's vitality and maintain its youthful appearance for years to come.

What does the sun do to your skin?

In this article, we'll delve into the science behind how the sun affects your skin, from tanning and sunburns to long-term consequences like premature ageing and skin damage. But worry not: we’ll also share some tips on how to protect and care for your skin so that you can still enjoy all the benefits the sun offers. So, let's dive in and discover the sun's secrets together!

Reduces elastic and collagen fibres in skin

One of the lesser-known effects of sun exposure is the impact it has on the elastic and collagen fibres in your skin. The sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation penetrates the skin and triggers the breakdown of collagen and elastin – the proteins responsible for skin elasticity and firmness.

Over time, repeated exposure to UV radiation leads to the degradation of these fibres, resulting in visible signs of ageing, such as fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin. While that bronzed glow may be tempting, the loss of collagen and elastin can also contribute to a loss of skin's overall elasticity and resilience, and cause irreversible damage.

Promotes wrinkles and lines

Similarly, prolonged exposure without proper protection can lead to the promotion of wrinkles and fine lines. More specifically, UV radiation leads to the formation of free radicals in the skin, which are highly reactive molecules that can damage collagen and elastin fibres. These fibres provide support and elasticity to the skin, but when they’re compromised, wrinkles and fine lines start to appear.

Likewise, UV radiation can disrupt the production of new collagen, further contributing to the ageing process.

Accelerates early ageing

Of course, these significant changes to your skin take a toll on your youthful appearance – known as photoaging. The process of premature ageing occurs due to the sun's UV rays causing DNA changes at a cellular level, leading to visible signs of ageing, such as wrinkles, fine lines and age spots.

UV radiation not only breaks down collagen and elastin, but it also causes oxidative stress and inflammation, further contributing to premature ageing.

Because photodamage happens in the deepest layers of the skin –the dermis –it can take years before the damage surfaces and becomes noticeable.

Gives your skin dark spots

Another unsightly skin effect caused by overexposure to the sun is the development of dark skin spots, commonly known as sunspots or hyperpigmentation.

When the skin is exposed to UV radiation, it triggers an overproduction of melanin – the pigment responsible for skin colour. This excessive melanin production can cause uneven pigmentation, resulting in the appearance of dark spots on the skin.

How can the sun make your skin better?

However, while excessive sun exposure can have harmful effects on the skin, moderate and responsible sun exposure can, in fact, provide a plethora of benefits.

Most notably, sun exposure stimulates the production of vitamin D in the body, which is essential for bone health, immune function and overall well-being. Sunlight also has an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin, which can reduce redness and inflammation associated with certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, acne and eczema.

Better yet, the more sun you get, the more endorphins your body releases!

What does sun damage look like on skin?

Sun damage on the skin can manifest in various ways, and its appearance depends on the severity and duration of exposure. Perhaps the most common and earliest sign of sun damage is sunburn, which can make your skin red, painful and sometimes even peel and blister.

However, prolonged exposure to the sun without protection can result in the development of dark spots, often called sunspots or age spots. These changes are irreversible and lead to a much older appearance.

Over many years, wrinkles and fine lines will also start to show up earlier than expected due to the sun's harmful effects on collagen and elastin fibres.

How can you protect your skin from the sun?

But fear not, you can still enjoy the beauty of basking in the summer sun without the worry of causing serious skin damage. While it's important to be aware of these signs, we discuss below the necessary steps to take to protect your skin. From using sun protection, seeking shade and wearing protective clothing, a little extra care can go a long way in keeping your skin healthy and radiant!

Wear SPF daily

One of the most effective ways to enjoy the sun this summer, whilst protecting the health of your skin, is to wear sunscreen with a high SPF daily. Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that safeguards against both UVA and UVB rays. At a minimum, dermatologists recommend sunscreens of at least 30 SPF. That said, if you’re much fairer-skinned, opt for one of our SPF 50 sunscreens for stronger skin protection.

Apply it generously to all exposed areas of your skin, including your face, neck, arms, legs and even ears! If you’re planning a day at the pool or beach, reapply it every two hours, especially if you’re swimming.

Cover up

Or, for a quick and simple way to stay protected whilst out and about, running errands or alfresco dining, cover up with some lightweight clothes or accessories. Opt for loose-fitting clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible while remaining as cool as possible in the heat. Some great options are floaty long-sleeved shirts, linen trousers, and wide-brimmed hats to provide shade and protection. Don't forget to wear sunglasses to shield your eyes from harmful UV rays!

Sit in the shade

Although you may want to achieve a head-turning and enviable tan this summer, give your skin some momentary breaks from the sun and sit in the shade every once in a while. Find a shady tree, a large beach umbrella or even a beach bar to give your skin a much-needed break. Try to find some shade during 12pm - 3pm, when the sun's UV rays are at their strongest. Your skin will not only thank you, but you’ll also reduce your risk of overheating and developing heat-related illnesses.


While prolonged sun exposure and over-tanning can cause detrimental changes to the health of your skin, it doesn’t mean that we should fear the sun. In fact, with the precautions taken, you can enjoy the sun’s visceral benefits all year round. So prioritise the measures discussed and enjoy bronzed yet healthy, youthful skin.

Take a look at our guides to what SPF you should use and how to apply sunscreen for the most effective protection!