Solar Elastosis: What Is It and How to Prevent It?

November 18, 2022

Elastosis is the premature aging of the skin caused by exposure to the sun, which causes deep wrinkles, roughness, yellowing of the skin, and blemishes. In addition, solar elastosis is a warning sign that increases the risk of skin cancer.

Summer brings long days outdoors, days at the beach, swimming pools, barbecues, and walks outside. But at this time of the year, the sun hits our skin harder, so we should protect ourselves more than ever.

We must be aware that prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays can have negative consequences to our health.

In addition to sunstroke, sunburn, sunspots, and skin cancer, there are other harmful effects caused by excessive sun exposure, which are perhaps less known, but also harmful. One of these is solar elastosis.

What Is Solar Elastosis?

Solar elastosis is a consequence of the deterioration of the skin's connective tissue (the tissue that gives firmness and support to the skin) due to the action of ultraviolet radiation.

Ultraviolet radiation breaks down the connective tissue, composed of collagen and elastin fibers, found in the deepest layer of the skin (dermis).

As a result of the rupture of the elastin fibers, the skin loses its elasticity and becomes yellowish and thicker, with deep wrinkles.

The diagnosis can be made by analyzing the distinctive appearance of yellow, thickened skin in the affected area or by skin biopsy.

What Causes Elastosis?

Ultraviolet radiation causes a decrease in the number of fibroblasts in the dermis, and they are less active in producing collagen. As a result, the skin loses its elasticity and turns saggy, forming deep furrows. 

The main risk factor is sun exposure, but other factors can also play a role:

Physiological aging is a crucial factor: it causes laxity and atrophy of the skin with the appearance of fine surface wrinkles and loss of elasticity. 

The loss of elastic fibers begins around the age of 30 and intensifies from 45-50 years of age, being much more marked from the seventh decade of life onwards. 

Other factors that can contribute to or aggravate solar elastosis are:

  • The intake of some drugs such as corticosteroids (both topical and systemic)

  • Vascular diseases such as arteriosclerosis.

  • Heart disease

  • Liver disease

  • Diabetes

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Smoking 

Skin Signs of Solar Elastosis

Solar elastosis is a sign of photoaging resulting from exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Its signs appear after the age of 40 and cause:

  • Fine and deep wrinkles

  • Yellowish discoloration of the skin

  • Thicker and rougher skin

  • Color changes (dark or white spots)

These lesions usually appear first on the areas of skin most exposed to the sun, such as the face, lips, ears, neck, forearms, or hands

Does Having Elastosis Increase the Risk of Skin Cancer?

Solar elastosis caused by prolonged sun exposure can be a risk factor for developing skin cancer.

In other words, both are a consequence of the influence of ultraviolet radiation on our skin. Therefore, the presence of solar elastosis is a warning sign indicating a higher risk of skin cancer.

How to Treat Solar Elastosis?

The essential advice is focused on prevention, avoiding excessive sun exposure, and avoiding tobacco. It is advisable to use creams with a high sun factor daily, not to abuse the hours of exposure to the sun, and moisturize and clean the skin frequently.

Regarding treatments that can improve already diagnosed solar elastosis, some topical treatments may work, such as topical retinoids, vitamin C, and chemical peelings.

Oral collagen supplements and phytoestrogens may also help but only if your medical expert recommends them.

Several medical-aesthetic treatments act favorably in stimulating collagen and elastin synthesis, improving skin elasticity. These are:

  • Microdermabrasion

  • Chemical peeling

  • Radiofrequency

  • Microneedling

  • Biostimulation with vitamin injection or platelet-rich plasma

  • Laser resurfacing

Tips for Preventing Elastosis

Skin photoprotection is the most effective anti-aging therapy and consists of avoiding excessive sun exposure.

It is important not to expose the skin to the sun at peak hours (10 am-4 pm) and to use protective clothing and photoprotective creams that cover the areas exposed to sunlight.

Sunscreen should be applied at least 20 minutes before exposure and renewed every two hours.

Numerous photo protectors can be divided into chemical (which absorb specific photons of UV light) and physical (sunscreens that reflect or scatter UV radiation).

The sun protection factor (SPF) tells us how much time of sun exposure increases the appearance of erythema (skin redness caused by inflammation) on protected skin. 

For example, if a person needs 10 minutes of sun exposure to develop erythema and applies sunscreen with SPF 15, the theoretical exposure time to obtain this effect will be 10 x 15 minutes; if it is 30, the effect will be 10 x 30 minutes. 

Final Word

Solar elastosis is a skin condition caused by extreme sun exposure, resulting in deep and fine wrinkles, yellow discoloration, and dark or white spots. 

The best way to prevent it is to avoid long sun exposures. However, quitting smoking, changing the diet, and regular medical check-ups can also help prevent this skin condition.