Effects of Ultraviolet (UV) Exposure

What are the effects of UV exposure?

woman lying in the sun

Exposure to UV rays is linked to a number of harmful health conditions, including the following:

  • Skin cancer. Consider the following statistic related to skin cancer:

    • More than two million people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the U.S. each year.

    • Skin cancer is more common as people get older, but skin damage from the sun begins at an early age. Therefore, protection should start in childhood to prevent skin cancer later in life.

  • Premature aging (photoaging) of the skin. Sun exposure also causes premature aging of the skin, a condition called photoaging, which is different than chronological aging.

    • People who sunbathe regularly show photoaging early in life. Chronologically-aged skin, more often, shows changes later in life.

    • Freckling, fine wrinkling, and dilation of capillaries are often seen early in the photoaging process.

    • Photoaged skin often develops irregular pigmentation (liver spots) in later years.

    • Both photoaging and chronological aging cause wrinkling and loss of skin elasticity. However, these changes occur much earlier when skin has been overexposed to the sun.

  • Cataracts and other eye disorders. Cataracts, an eye disorder characterized by a change in the structure of the lens that causes blurred vision, are a leading cause of blindness around the world and excessive UV exposure is one of the risk factors in the development of cataracts. In fact, people who spend more time in the sun may develop cataracts earlier than others. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends wearing UV-blocking, wraparound sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to lessen exposure to ultraviolet rays.

    Corneal sunburn, growths on the outer surface of the eye, retinal-tissue damage, and other eye diseases are also known, or suspected, to be related to long-term exposure to UV rays.

  • Immune system damage. The skin is part of the body's natural defense system. Many health care professionals believe that UV radiation can alter immune system functions. When UV radiation suppresses immune responses, the body's ability to fight certain diseases, including skin cancer, is reduced.