What It Is

example of photoaging around the eyePhotoaging is premature aging of the skin caused by repeated exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) primarily from the sun, but also from artificial UV sources. Photoaging is different from chronological aging, as the damaging effects of UV rays from the sun (or artificial tanning sources) alter the normal structures of the skin.


On sun-exposed areas, up to 90% of skin aging is due to the damaging effects of the sun. Compare the skin on an area rarely exposed to the sun with that on the face to see the difference in tone, colour and texture. The differences you see are because of the damage caused by UV.

The natural aging process is unavoidable and dependent on time and genetics, and exposures during life. However, photoaging can be avoided with good sun protection habits.

The Skin and UV Rays

UVB radiation penetrates the epidermal – outer – layer of the skin. It damages DNA in this layer and causes other changes in skin cells. This may result in early signs of photoaging, and over time precancerous cells and skin cancers may develop.

UVA radiation, while also damaging the epidermis, penetrates deeper into skin, to the level of the dermis. UVA not only harms epidermal cells, it also damages collagen and elastin, which make up the structure of the dermis and keep skin strong and flexible. Blood vessels can also be harmed.

Risk Factors

Your skin type and the amount of unprotected UV exposure you get will determine your risk. Fair-skinned people with blond or red hair and skin that usually burns with sun exposure are at greatest risk. Those who spend a lot of time in the sun through outdoor work or recreation also fall into the high-risk group. Darker-skinned people show fewer signs of obvious photoaging, although the skin can become mottled and there may be some wrinkling.

Photoaging can begin in the teen years or early 20s.


Photoaging appears on the most visible parts of the body — face, neck and back of the hand. These areas often receive significant sun exposure. In women, the exposed upper chest is another area where photoaging is seen. The lips can also show signs of excessive sun damage.

Signs of Photoaging

  • Spider veins on the nose, cheeks and neck.
  • Freckles are an early sign of sun damage and also an indicator of sun sensitive skin.
  • Pigmented spots that never disappear, often seen on the shoulders, face or hands, are called solar lentigines (age or liver spots).
  • General loss of skin tone in sun-exposed areas.
  • Wrinkles around the eyes and mouth increase in number and become deep creases; forehead frown lines set in and are visible when not frowning.
  • Red, rough scaly spots called actinic (sun-related) keratoses may appear; these may be precancerous and require treatment.

Prevention is the best treatment for photoaging.

Tips to prevent photoaging include:

  • Protect skin as best as you can while outside, especially between 11am and 3pm when the sun’s UV rays are strongest.
  • Seek shade whenever possible, including from trees, shade coverings, buildings, etc.
  • Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible, and broad-brimmed (at least five-inch-wide) hats.
  • Consult Environment Canada’s UV Index daily reports, and take appropriate precautions based on predicted UV levels.
  • Avoid outdoor tanning. Do not indoor tan.
  • Sunscreen should be worn daily and not just at times of significant sun exposure.
  • Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen (minimum of SPF 30) that protects against UVB and UVA. Reapply after swimming or heavy exertion.
  • Use cosmetics such as moisturizer, foundation, lipstick, hand cream and body lotion that contain SPF 30. These should be used in addition to a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
  • Apply an SPF 30 lip balm.
  • Look for the Canadian Dermatology Association’s Sun Protection Program logo. Products displaying the logo have gone through testing to ensure that they are skin-friendly and SPF 30 or above. The list of recognized products can be found here.

Treatment options to minimize visible signs of aging

There are various treatments available for sun damaged skin. Injections of botulinum toxin, dermal fillers, laser treatment, dermabrasion and chemical peels. There are also some skin preparations that can help restore skin to a more youthful appearance. (for example, retinoids – Vitamin A preparations).

A Certified Dermatologist can help you decide which treatment regimen will work best for you.