Most people love to spend time outdoors in the sunshine. The sun’s rays make us feel good, but by now, we know that too much sun exposure is actually harmful to our skin. Sun exposure causes wrinkles and age spots on our faces. Recently, dermatologists revealed helpful ways to reverse sun damage to your skin. Does it actually work?

Increase in skin cancer

Sun exposure might cause wrinkles and speed up the aging process, but it also damages your skin. The sun’s powerful ultraviolet [UV] light damages the fibers in the skin, called elastin. As these fibers break down, your skin begins to sag, stretch, and eventually lose the ability to go back to place. The UV damage also causes more bruises on the skin, which could take longer to heal than it normally should.

This is scary enough, but sun exposure also increases the risk of developing skin cancer. More and more people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. Why is that? The cancer develops due to an uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. The rapid growth then results in tumors.

Anyone can develop skin cancer and at any time in their life. But the risk is greater for people with fair or freckled skin that tends to burn easily, as well as people with light eyes and blond or red hair. The most common symptom of skin cancer is a significant change on the skin, typically a new mole on your body. It’s best to speak to a dermatologist as soon as possible if you notice a mole.

Tanning is bad for you

It’s not news that tanning is bad for you. Dermatologists have been warning individuals for years that tanning is harmful to your skin, but yet, people still participate in the popular outdoor activity. People want that “healthy glow” but dermatologists want to warn you. The color you get after sitting in the sun is not a “healthy glow,” but instead it’s your body’s reaction to UV damage.

Excessive UV exposure leads to the production of harmful enzymes in the skin, which breaks down collagen and elastic fibers. This leads to more wrinkles and the thinning of your skin. Your skin shows signs of sun damage by as early as your 20s, especially if you experienced a blistering sunburn in your childhood or adolescent years. Dermatologist Dr. Sheel Solomon explained, “Skin has a memory. Sun damage at an early age remains throughout adult life. If you have not been protecting your skin, sun damage can start to show up in your 20s.”

Aside from the increase in skin cancer, skin damage and more wrinkles, the sun’s UV rays cause DNA damage to our skin cells. According to Solomon, the sun causes dry skin, actinic keratosis [a rough, scaly patch on the skin], and changes to the skin’s collagen production, resulting in fine lines and deeper wrinkles. It’s time to start taking care of your skin.

So, can you reverse sun damage?

This question has an easy answer from dermatologists: yes. Solomon believes it is possible to reverse the sun damage on your skin. She recommends chemical peels to remove the top layer of the sun-damaged skin. Laser treatments can also help to reduce the prominence of sunspots on the chest, neck, and hands. Of course, this requires an office visit to your dermatologist, but it’s worth it to save your skin.

But according to dermatologist Dr. Angela Lamb, if you want to help your skin, you have to act quickly. Damage caused from years of sun exposure with little to no protection could result in skin cells you can’t repair. According to her, instead of trying to find a way to reverse the damage that’s already been done, focus on prevention so you don’t further damage your skin in the future.

Protect yourself from the sun’s rays by wearing sunscreen, preferably one with an SPF of at least 50. Reapply the sunscreen after every 80 minutes. Sit in the shade and walk on the shady side of the street. Wear UV protective clothing. Take care of your skin. It’s a part of what makes you, well, you.