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Haunting Sun Damage Years Later Seborrheic Keratosis and More

elderly woman with sun damaged face and neck gazing to her side vladimir-soares-z_8Jqe0Cc-s-unsplash haunting sun damage

Last updated 06/13/2024

For decades people baked in the sun to get a golden tan. They were led to believe this was healthy and actually beautiful. Haunting sun damage is not healthy or beautiful.

The truth be told spending all that time working on that tan ages your skin. In order to get a tan some sunburn first. Further, sunburn is honestly an injury to your skin.

If you're lucky you may get that golden tan for the summer. But I'm telling you all that over exposure to the sun builds up. You will have extra keratin forming lesions on your skin surface many years later. To sum up, not so pretty skin.

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What is Sun Damage?

Ah we all love the warmth of the sun. And we need the vitamin D. But too much unprotected sun exposure is bad.

Sun damage is also called:

  • Photo aging
  • Photo damage
  • Solar damage

You can be exposed to the sun no matter what the weather is. So even in the winter the sun is there to some extent. The snow and ice can reflect the rays from the sun almost doubling your amount of exposure received. Certainly keep this in mind while you are outdoors.

Sun exposure can significantly damage your skin. Its heat can dry out skin depleting its natural lubricating oils. In addition the sun’s UV radiation can cause sunburn and long term changes to its structure.

The sun’s rays can prematurely age your skin. Most importantly sun damage takes place in your dermis taking years to reach the surface and become visible.

Say about 20 years when you see some type of hyperpigmentation (dark spots). Then you may wish you had been more careful. So take note of this now and you could avoid sun damage in your future.

Haunting Sun Damage Signs

It differs from normal aging of the skin that is just getting older and your genetics. Sun damage is all about the UV rays and/or artificial means. That is to say tanning beds and sun lamps.

You can view this difference by examining your skin. Compare an area that has not been exposed to the sun with the skin on your face. Thus is there a difference?

    Symptoms could be:

  • Wrinkling
  • Age spots, liver spots (solar lentigines) and freckles
  • Sagging skin
  • Rough, uneven skin texture
  • Broken capillaries typically by the nose, on the chin and chest
  • Redness and blotchiness

I started seeing leathery lesions on my face close to age 40. The texture is scaly/bumpy and their color is brownish/tan. For instance they are roundish in shape and they differ in size. In addition they tend to itch.

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What Causes Sun Damage?

Obviously, the sun, right? But to be more specific ultraviolet radiation causes DNA differences in your skin. To sum up there are two types of UV light.


This type of solar radiation can damage skin at the epidermis down to the dermis. So, several layers of your skin are affected. Thus, collagen and elastin fibers, the building structure of your skin.

These fibers keep your skin firm and tight. In other words, this includes epidermal cells and capillaries (those tiny blood vessels).


Likewise solar radiation affects your epidermis. UVB light is more potent at damaging DNA. Most importantly this causes sun damage and precancerous cells (actinic keratosis).

Who is at Risk for Sun Damage?

Everyone and anyone who has had any sun exposure can develop sun damage. Some factors do come into play though. Certainly, how much time you have spent in the sun without sunscreen.

As well as your skin type and geographical factors like your climate and latitude. Typically, lighter skin is more prone to sun damage and skin cancer. However darker skin can also develop sun damage and skin cancer.

It’s more likely darker skin will result in uneven dark patches (melasma). Your dermatologist will refer to the Fitzpatrick Scale to determine your sun damage risk for your skin color.

Types of Sun Damage

Actinic Cheiitis

Actinic Cheilitis (aka farmer’s lip) typically develops on the lower lip. It can have scaly patches, dryness and cracking or swelling as well. Further your border-line separating your lip and skin can vanish.

Above all consult your dermatologist. If left untreated it can turn into squamous cell carcinoma.

Actinic Keratosis (AK)

Actinic keratosis (aka solar keratosis) is seen as red, brown or skin toned lesions that are small rough and scaly. They are often found on sun exposed parts of those with light skin. For example your head, neck or hands.

These can be accompanied by a burning stinging sensation. Most importantly they tend to turn into squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated.

Age Spots

These are also known as liver spots or solar lentigines. Although these pesky brown spots are not due to aging they do surface as you get older. That’s how sun damage works. Moreover age spots develop on your face, hands and chest and make your appearance look older.

   Age spots can be treated with:

  • Bleaching creams
  • Liquid nitrogen
  • Retin-A products
  • Topical benzoyl peroxide

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Freckles (aka ephelides) can appear on any area of sun exposed skin. They may be more noticeable during the summer especially if you have fair skin and blonde or red hair. In short they aren’t bad for you.

Some cancers though in early stages can resemble these spots. As always if you notice a change in size, shape or color, if it itches or bleeds see your dermatologist.

Guttate Hypomelanosis

Guttate hypomelanosis can present on chronic sun exposed skin. Spots are small round or oval “porcelain white” especially on forearms, backs of hands and shins. Above all it rarely forms on the face.

These have been appearing on my forearms. I think they look sorta transparent almost like my skin color was scratched off. They are flat like freckles.

Hair Loss

Yes you can have damage to your scalp if it is not covered resulting as hair loss. The scalp can also become sunburned. Furthermore damaged hair follicles could feel confused on whether to grow or shed.

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Labial Lentigo

Labial lentigo (aka labial melanotic macule) is a harmless spot. It presents as a small, flat brown mark often on your lip. As a result it’s due to repeated sun exposure.

Lentigo Maligna

Lentigo maligna (aka Hutchinson melanotic freckle) is a kind of growth that occurs in areas of chronic sun exposure like your face, arms or legs. It can start as a flat irregularly shaped spot that slowly grows. Above all it can develop into melanoma.


Melasma (aka pregnancy mask) are tan or brown patches that show up on your cheeks, nose, forehead or chin. It’s mainly common in women who are pregnant but men can also get it.

With pregnancy it may vanish after. Otherwise, it can be treated with prescription creams and over the counter products. Most importantly wear your sunscreen if you have melasma because the sun can make it worse.

     Melasma often affects:

  • Black, Asian and Hispanic people
  • Those with an olive complexion or light brown skin
  • Women taking birth control pills or hormone therapy
  • Women in their second or third trimester of pregnancy


Poikiloderma of Civatte appears as areas of irregular reddish-brown pigmentation. Most often on the neck and upper chest of regularly sun exposed areas.

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Seborrheic Keratosis (SK)

Seborrheic keratosis is what I’ve been seeing as the years go by. They are benign lesions and give the appearance of looking glued on the skin. In conclusion they tend to recur particularly in people who have oily skin.

Solar Elastosis

This can happen due to the sun’s rays breaking down the collagen and elastin in your skin. So skin loses its firmness. Further it could yellow and get thicker with deep wrinkles that don’t disappear when stretched.

elderly woman's sun damaged, wrinkled hands with fingers linked on her green and white checked lap danie-franco-CeZypKDceQc-unsplash haunting sun damage

Haunting Sun Damage Treatment

Seborrheic keratosis on my face was misted with cryosurgery (liquid nitrogen). This feels like sharp ice crystals hitting the skin. However it is temporary and the sensation only last seconds.

Your dermatologist can diagnose sun damaged areas by using a Wood’s Lamp. Skin conditions appear as a different fluoresce (color). For example a blue-white color shined on your skin would be normal.

In my past I have had a dermatologist remove what looked like tan blisters from my back with a scalpel. This is a very sharp tool to cut the lesion off at the base. To sum up it is then cauterized leaving a pale flat scar on the surface.

After that the lesions usually dry up and flake off. Larger lesions may require more visits to get the whole lesion. That is to say this has been my dilemma repeated visits over the years.

At one time I even had a cosmetic surgeon dig out the lesion and it continues to come back. But you never know until you try.

Currently I have tried a couple over the counter products. They have exfoliated the top layer. But no permanent solution yet.

Wrapping it up

Well if I haven’t convinced you yet I don’t know what will. Sun damage can appear years later due to sun exposure. Further it takes many forms.

And you can’t run from them. The best prevention for these spots is to apply your sunscreen and cover up. Likewise avoid the sun if you can.


Mary is the founder of All About Our Skin. Former esthetician and CPC. Enjoys researching skincare and has been studying our skin for the past fifteen years.

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