We’ve long know that prolonged exposure to sunlight harms human skin. Among the consequences, sun exposure not only ages your skin but also leaves you vulnerable to serious skin disorders. To keep your skin both healthy and more youthful-looking, it’s important to protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays. By decreasing the damage the sun does to your skin, you can keep your skin looking its best while preventing serious skin conditions like solar elastosis.
What is Elastosis?
Elastosis refers to degenerative changes to the dermal layer of skin tissue. This is the layer of skin–beneath your epidermis–that contains connective tissue, hair follicles, and sweat glands. In elastosis, extra elastin is irregularly deposited in this dermal layer in response to damage.
Types of Elastosis
There are different types of elastosis. These include:
Solar elastosis results from sun damage. It is discussed in further detail below and is the main focus of this article.
Elastosis Perforans Serpiginosa (EPS)
Elastosis Perforans Serpiginosa, or EPS, is a very rare skin disease where abnormal elastic tissue fibers, other connective tissue elements, and cellular debris are expelled from the papillary dermis through the epidermis.
EPS is a disease of connective tissue, probably of autoantigenic etiology, occurring in the following three forms:
- Idiopathic EPS: While the cause of this form of EPS is largely unknown, it is suspected that genetic predisposition may be a contributory factor.
- Reactive EPS: This variety of EPS is related to systemic, inherited, fibrous tissue abnormalities, including Down Syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan syndrome, osteogenesis imperfecta, scleroderma, and pseudoxanthoma elasticum.
- Drug-Induced EPS: This form of EPS is caused by the pharmacologic effect of penicillamine (in only about 1% of the patients who were administered the drug).
Favre-Racouchot syndrome is also called nodular elastosis. It is characterized by cysts and comedone formation in sun-damaged skin, and often shows prominently under the eyes or on the back of the neck.
Linear Focal Elastosis
Linear focal elastosis usually affects the back or trunk but can involve the dermal tissue of the thighs, arms, and breast as well. It presents as asymptomatic, palpable, or atrophic yellow lines or stretch marks (striae).
Elastoma refers to an isolated accumulation of elastin fibers such as in a mole or raised red patch of skin (a nevus).
Buschke-Ollendorf syndrome is a rare, hereditary connective tissue disorder associated with skin growths and osteosclerosis.
What is Solar Elastosis?
Solar elastosis is a medical condition caused by sun damage to your skin over time. It causes photoaging as your skin gets thicker, drier, and more wrinkled. It can also alter the color of your skin. Other names for solar elastosis include actinic elastosis and elastosis senilis.
Much of your skin tissue consists of collagen and elastin. Collagen is the main structural protein in your body and skin. Elastin is another protein present in connective tissue throughout your body–including your skin–and is highly elastic, allowing tissues in your body to keep their shape. During elastosis, the collagen component of skin is damaged and degraded, and elastin ends up accumulating excessively to overcompensate for this damage. This abnormal accumulation of elastin can also occur in the conjunctiva of your eye. Prolonged and accumulative exposure to the sun causes solar elastosis–just one of the many unhealthy changes that take place in photo-aged skin and eyes.
What are the Symptoms of Solar Elastosis?
Some of the main symptoms of solar elastosis include:
- The appearance of a yellowish or even bluish hue to the skin
- An undue thickness of the skin due to the degeneration of collagen and elastin tissues and accumulation of elastin
- The appearance of bumps on the skin
- A wrinkly texture of the skin in the affected area
- Furrowing of the skin
- Areas of unusually dry skin
- The appearance of deep fissures in the skin especially on the back of the neck (the area most often exposed to the sun)
- An appearance of fine scaling on the skin
- Increased pigmentation of the skin, uneven pigmentation, and hyperpigmentation spots
- The appearance of angiomas (benign growths) & telangiectasia (“spider veins”)
- The appearance of lentigines (liver spots)
- The occurrence of keratosis (rough, scaly patches of skin)
Who Is Affected by Solar Elastosis?
People living in the tropics, those who spend prolonged hours in the sun, and people who are fair skinned (and therefore more photosensitive) have a higher risk of developing solar elastosis.
What are the Causes of Solar Elastosis?
One of the primary reasons for the development of solar elastosis is long-term and extreme exposure to the sun.
Any time you are exposed to the sun–but especially when you get sunburned–structures throughout your epidermis and dermis are damaged, including the deeper layers of your connective tissue. As your body tries to heal itself, one of the results is the abnormal accumulating of elastin. Frequent sunburns and excessive sun exposure often lead to the appearance of solar elastosis.
Smoking, in addition to causing premature aging of your skin, is also one of the major factors that increases the likelihood of developing solar elastosis.
How is Solar Elastosis Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of solar elastosis is often done through physical and clinical investigation. It is important that whenever you observe or notice significant changes to your skin you see a medical profession for a thorough examination.
When you are examined by a physician, depending on the type of damage to your skin and how it manifests itself, the doctor may request a skin sample for further analysis. The skin biopsy will be analyzed in the laboratory to figure out what types of changes it has undergone and what types of treatments may be necessary.
How is Solar Elastosis Treated?
Like most health conditions, it is much better to prevent solar elastosis than to treat it. But there are a number of available options if you need to treat the condition. Some of the main treatments for solar elastosis include the following:
Quite literally, phototherapy is treatment with light. Phototherapy for elastosis involves applying UV light to the affected areas of your skin.
UVB phototherapy is the preferred solution that utilizes broadband UVB and narrowband UVB. According to experts and authority figures in the field of dermatology, the type of phototherapy chosen depends on the condition and extent of the damage to your skin.
Additionally, a dermatologist also needs to test your skin for receptiveness to phototherapy before determining if the option is viable for you. There might also be a need to repeat the phototherapy sessions many times in order to achieve satisfying results.
Intense Pulsed Light
Intense pulsed light or IPL technology makes use of a high-powered, hand-held flashgun that is controlled by computer to administer an intense, visible, broad-spectrum pulse of light. This light is usually in the visible spectral range of 400 to 1200nm. The treatment entails employing a number of cutoff filters to selectively filter the lower wavelengths out–in particular the damaging ultraviolet light. The spectral range of light targets certain skin structures and chromophores–including melanin in hair and oxyhemoglobin in blood vessels–which are destroyed and reabsorbed by your body.
Laser skin resurfacing is one of the more popular cosmetic procedures and is known to be reasonably safe, effective, and convenient. In this procedure, a laser is utilized to degrade the connections of your damaged skin cells layer by layer. The goal is smoother skin–which also makes your skin appear more uniform.
In laser resurfacing, lasers shine high-energy light on the areas of your skin that are affected by elastosis. Chromophores (such as melanin) present in the skin absorb this light and convert it into heat energy. (This is how melanin normally works: by turning the electromagnetic energy of light from the sun into heat–thus dissipating it relatively harmlessly.) But with the excessive energy of the lasers used in resurfacing, the heat energy destroys sections of your skin in layers. Over time, this stimulates the growth of new skin cells to replace the damaged skin cells, thus healing the area where the treatment was employed.
During laser resurfacing there is little to no damage to the skin surrounding the site of treatment.
The process of laser resurfacing is carried out in the following manner.
- Cleaning the affected area and then marking it
- Applying local anesthesia to desensitize the marked area before the treatment begins
- Treating the area with the laser and soothing the skin with a salt water solution. The frequency of the laser is decided based both on the type of skin and the extent of damage to the skin.
- Covering the skin with ointment and dressing it upon completion of the treatment.
Following the treatment, your skin may become swollen and remain tender for a few days–for which the doctor might prescribe some medication.
Though intense pulsed light treatment and laser treatment may seem similar because both technologies make use of light in order to heat up and degrade their targets, there are basic differences. Lasers use a single color (or narrow range of wavelengths) of light which in general match the frequencies of absorption of only one type of chromophore at a time–and therefore treat one specific condition at a time. IPL, however, uses filtered broad-spectrum light which enables it to treat a number of more general conditions at the same type.
Dermal fillers can be of assistance when it comes to diminishing the outward appearance of wrinkles and fine lines that resulted from various types of skin damage. These fillers are administered through injections and can be applied to your cheeks, areas around the eyes, chin, mouth, forehead, and neck.
The dermal filler injections that are used are usually relatively painless, but in some cases the physician may decide to apply a topical ointment or cream in order to numb the area of your skin where the treatment is going to be administered.
The process is carried out with small needles and the fillers are directly injected into your skin. Following the treatment, you may experience swelling in the area that surrounds the site of treatment. This swelling, though, clears up quickly. Your doctor may also prescribe some analgesics for you if necessary.
Like the name indicates, these types of treatments involve applying medicated creams topically to treat your elastosis. The creams are prescribed by doctors depending on the extent of damage to your skin.
Topical Estrogen Therapy
Estrogen–a hormone–can be applied topically to the affected areas of your skin. This may be advised by a physician after he or she has conducted a thorough examination of the affected areas of skin. While this can be helpful in some cases, the effect of the treatment is limited and may not be advised for people with severe skin damage.
A chemical peel is a technique used to treat elastosis by applying a chemical solution with a strong exfoliating effect to the skin. This eventually causes layers of the skin to peel off. The theory is that once these outer layers of the skin have been lost, they will be replaced by newer, younger-looking skin. While this can improve the appearance of your skin in the short-term by exposing smoother, deeper layers of skin, it should be used with caution as it leaves the skin more vulnerable to additional damage–especially from sunlight.
There are three types of chemical peels:
- Superficial Peel: A mild acid like alpha-hydroxy acid is applied to your skin in order to penetrate just the outermost skin layer and exfoliate it gently. This can be especially effective when it comes to treating mild stages of elastosis.
- Medium Peel: Chemicals like glycolic acid or trichloroacetic acid are applied to your skin with the intent of penetrating the outermost layers of your skin and into the deeper layers to degrade the damaged skin cells.
- Deep Peel: In this type of peel, chemicals like trichloroacetic acid or phenol are applied to your skin so that deeper layers of damaged skin cells may be reached and degraded.
Among these types of chemical peels, a deep peel should only be performed once on your face. After the treatment has been administered, you will experience skin redness followed by scaling for up to a week or more. There might also be swelling and blisters that crust and peel by themselves over the following weeks. Additionally, you may need to keep the treated area bandaged for several days after the peel.
Botox injections (botulinum toxin injections) reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles when administered to your skin. In this process, the physician numbs the skin that will be treated to reduce the pain from the injections. The doctor then injects the botulinum toxin into the skin with a fine needle. Care must be taken to avoid rubbing the site of treatment, as rubbing can lead to swelling in the area. These injections take a short time to administer and can show results very quickly. However, there can be some negative side effects from using Botox, and the results may only last a few months.
How to Prevent Solar Elastosis
Stay out of the sun
The most successful method of preventing solar elastosis is to decrease the amount of time your skin is exposed to UV rays. That means that the best method of prevention is simply to stay out of the sun as much as possible. Beyond limiting your time outdoors, avoid exposure during the middle parts of the day when the sun is highest in the sky and most intense.
If you find it exceedingly difficult to avoid sun exposure, then at least wear protective clothing that covers as much of your vulnerable body parts as possible–including your arms, chest, back, legs, hands, and face–while you are in the sun. Dark-colored and tightly woven clothing that allow little sunlight to pass through work best. Hats and sunglasses (to protect the sensitive tissue of your eyes) are also valuable means of defense against future incidences of solar elastosis and eye damage.
Wear a non-toxic sunscreen lotion
Prior to sun exposure, the application of sunscreen lotion with SPF of at least 30—which can block or absorb UVB rays (and much of UVA rays)—is also encouraged. Just ensure that any sunscreen lotion you use contains ONLY the active ingredient zinc oxide (and possibly titanium dioxide), but excludes all the other toxic active ingredients commonly found in conventional sunscreen lotions. Click here for more information on choosing a sunscreen lotion.
Sunsafe Rx is a nutritional supplement made with certain specific antioxidants from foods and plants that have been shown to protect sensitive skin and eye tissue. Some of these ingredients include lycopene, astaxanthin, zeaxanthin, lutein, and other carotenoids. Polyphenols from green tea and grape seeds can also help support your skin and eyes during exposure to the elements, as can an extract from a fern called Polypodium leucotomos.
Sunsafe Rx is natural and healthy for your whole body and is made with ingredients in foods and plants that have been shown to help protect your skin and eyes in clinical trials. While Sunsafe Rx supports your whole body all the time, you can also use sunscreen lotion synergistically whenever you need it.
Elastosis is caused by degenerative changes to the dermal layer of your skin tissue. As this damage occurs, extra elastin is deposited in the connective tissue of your skin, resulting in unhealthy, wrinkled skin and an aged appearance.
Solar elastosis is elastosis caused specifically by sun exposure. Solar elastosis is also called actinic elastosis and elastosis senilis. The more exposure to sunlight you get, the greater your chances of sustaining skin damage that results in solar elastosis.
The best way to prevent solar elastosis, and photoaging in general, is to avoid sun exposure. And it is of course prudent to cover or protect your skin from sunlight when you are outdoors during the day.
While there are methods of treating solar elastosis, none of them are ideal. As with your general health, prevention is always preferable to trying to undo cumulative damage after the fact. Click here for more information on preventing aging and living a longer, healthier life.
In addition to sunscreen lotion, Sunsafe Rx can be a valuable aid in protecting your skin. Sunsafe Rx contains ingredients that have been shown to help defend your skin and eyes from damage. These natural antioxidants have also been shown to improve the appearance of your skin.