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Effets soleil sur vieillissement cutané.

The sun and skin aging.

While the sun is beneficial to the body and mood to a certain extent, prolonged and repeated exposure can be harmful to the skin and cause it to age prematurely. Discover more details here about the mechanisms at work.

Published June 12, 2024, updated on June 12, 2024, by Marie, Scientific Editor — 7 min read

What is the link between sun exposure and skin aging?

It is well-known that sun exposure can be harmful to the skin, ranging from simple redness to melanomas and carcinomas, including more or less intense sunburns. However, the sun's impact on the skin does not stop there and can also result in premature skin sagging accompanied by brown spots, true markers of age. The sun can also accelerate the onset of signs of photoaging such as dryness, roughness, wrinkles, dilation of blood vessels (telangiectasia)... Depending on the phototypes, the impact of the sun's rays is relatively significant.

For fair skin, some scientists believe that 80 to 90% of aging signs result from sun exposure.

Indeed, the various rays of the solar spectrum have an impact on the organization of skin layers and their constituents, particularly UV rays, emitting in the 100-400 nanometer wavelength range. While UVB rays (280-320 nm) stop at the epidermis, UVA rays (320-400 nm) can penetrate deeper and reach the dermis, where they cause a wide range of damage. In particular, studies have shown that this radiation can up-regulate the activity of the transcription factor AP1-1, a stimulator of the expression of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). These, in turn, are known to degrade the collagen and elastin, the structural proteins of the dermis. The induction of MMPs could thus be a primary mechanism of photoaging.

Furthermore, upon penetrating the skin, UV rays induce an excess generation of free radicals, which are highly reactive chemical species. Naturally produced during cellular energy metabolism, free radicals are responsible for oxidative damage to skin components (proteins, lipids, and DNA), ultimately leading to a visible chronic change in its appearance. While free radical damage is part of the normal aging process, the additional damage caused by UV-generated molecules plays a significant additional role in photoaging.

Under normal circumstances, the balance between free radicals and antioxidants is maintained by regulatory mechanisms. However, with age and repeated UV exposure, the number of free radicals increases and oxidative stress sets in. Several studies have indeed confirmed that UV rays produce enough free radicals to overwhelm the body's endogenous antioxidant defenses. Furthermore, these free radicals play a role in the UVA-induced activation of MMPs and promote the degradation of the dermis's protein fibers, resulting in skin that is less firm, less elastic, and less supple.

Another marker of skin aging related to sun exposure is the appearance of telangiectasias, or small dilated blood vessels, on the face. Indeed, studies have shown that UV rays are responsible for the hardening of blood vessels. Combined with the gradual reduction in the density of the supporting perivascular connective tissue over time, this phenomenon leads to chronic dilation, causing the progressive appearance of red spots and telangiectasias.

Furthermore, the sun stimulates the melanogenesis, the skin's pigmentation system. Under the effect of UV rays, the transfer of melanosomes to keratinocytes intensifies, leading to an increase in melanin production. Additionally, epidermal melanocytes are highly vulnerable to oxidative stress, a phenomenon that disrupts melanogenesis and leads to a disorganized and excessive production of melanin. These various factors, coupled with the gradual depletion of the melanocytes' pigment potential, lead to the appearance of brown spots, also known as solar lentigines, typically around the age of 40.

Finally, a recent clinical trial has highlighted the existing link between sun exposure and skin aging. This study was conducted with a large sample of 298 women with light phototypes, aged between 30 and 78 years. The participants were divided into two groups based on their sun exposure history: 157 women were characterized as sun-seeking (the "sun" group) and the remaining 141 were classified as sun-avoiding (the "shade" group). Several criteria related to skin aging, such as the presence of wrinkles and the existence of pigmentation and vascular disorders, were evaluated according to the age groups of the participants. The results are compiled in the table below and clearly show the impact of the sun on skin aging.

Evaluated CriterionBetween 30 and 39 years oldBetween 40 and 49 years oldBetween 50 and 59 years oldBetween 60 and 69 years old70 years and older
Wrinkle Score (between 0 and 4)Non-significant differenceNon-significant difference1.9 for the "shade" group and 2.7 for the "sun" group2.4 for the "shade" group and 2.8 for the "sun" groupNon-significant difference
Pigmentary disorder score (between 0 and 3)1 for the "shade" group and 1.8 for the "sun" group1.6 for the "shade" group and 2.2 for the "sun" group1.4 for the "shade" group and 2.3 for the "sun" group1.4 for the "shade" group and 2.3 for the "sun" group1.5 for the "shade" group and 2.4 for the "sun" group
Vascular disorder score (between 0 and 3)Non-significant differenceNon-significant difference2.1 for the "shade" group and 2.8 for the "sun" groupNon-significant differenceNon-significant difference
Évaluation de différents critères liés au vieillissement cutané selon les habitudes d'exposition au soleil.
Source : PIOT B. & al. Effect of the sun on visible clinical signs of aging in Caucasian skin. Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology (2013).

Advice : To prevent photoaging and protect yourself from the sun, we recommend applying a sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 in winter and an SPF 50 in summer daily.


  • LEBWOHL M. & al. Collagen changes in human skin chronically damaged by sun exposure. Photochemistry and Photobiology (1993).

  • FINK & al. Chronic Sun Damage and the Perception of Age, Health, and Attractiveness. Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences (2009).

  • SAUVAIGO S & others. Aging and photo-aging DNA repair phenotype of skin cells—Evidence suggesting an effect of chronic sun-exposure. Mutation Research-Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis (2012).

  • PIOT B. & al. Impact of Sun Exposure on Visible Clinical Signs of Aging in Caucasian Skin. Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology (2013).

  • RAMOS-E-SILVA M. & et al. Anti-aging cosmetics: Facts and controversies. Clinics in Dermatology (2013).


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