Merck Manual

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Chronic Effects of Sunlight

By

Julia Benedetti

, MD, Harvard Medical School

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2023
View PATIENT EDUCATION
Topic Resources

Photoaging

Chronic exposure to sunlight ages the skin (photoaging, dermatoheliosis, extrinsic aging), primarily by causing destruction of skin collagen due to various biochemical and DNA disruptions. Skin changes include both fine and coarse wrinkles, rough leathery texture, mottled pigmentation, lentigines (large frecklelike spots), sallowness, and telangiectasia.

Actinic keratoses

Actinic keratoses Actinic Keratoses Actinic keratoses are precancerous changes in skin cells (keratinocytes) that are a frequent consequence of many years of sun exposure. Diagnosis is clinical. Treatment typically includes lesion-directed... read more Actinic Keratoses are precancerous changes in skin cells (keratinocytes) that are a frequent consequence of many years of sun exposure. Actinic keratoses may be pink, red, or, less commonly, gray or brown, and may feel rough and scaly.

Skin cancers

Treating Chronic Effects of Sunlight

  • Minimization of UV light exposure

  • Topical treatments for photoaged skin

Photoaging

Various combination therapies, including chemical peels, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), topical alpha-hydroxy acids, imiquimod, photodynamic therapy, and tretinoin, have been used to reduce precancerous changes and improve the cosmetic appearance of chronically sun-damaged skin. These therapies are often effective in ameliorating superficial skin changes (eg, fine wrinkles, irregular pigmentation, sallowness, roughness, minor laxity) but have a much less pronounced effect on deeper changes (eg, telangiectasias). Many ingredients are used in over-the-counter cosmetic products without significant evidence that they improve chronic changes of the skin caused by sunlight.

Actinic keratoses

Skin cancers

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
Adrucil, Carac, Efudex, Fluoroplex, Tolak
Aldara, Zyclara
Altinac, Altreno, Atralin, AVITA, Refissa, Renova, Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, Tretin-X, Vesanoid
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NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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