WebMd claimed in a post that:

Exposure to sun causes most of the wrinkles and age spots on our faces. Consider this: One woman at age 40 who has protected her skin from the sun actually has the skin of a 30-year-old!

Does spending time in the sun make us look older? Does it increase wrinkles and age spots in our faces?

  • I doubt it is that simple since things like smoking are also well known causes of ageing skin. – matt_black Jan 23 '17 at 23:40

TL;DR: Skin is affected by exposure to UV irradiation from the sun and repeated exposure to harmful factors in the environment is noted to cause the typical photo aged skin having coarse wrinkles. However, the effect of sun-exposure causing these wrinkles is difficult to quantify or measure.

Skin, like many other organs, undergoes deleterious changes with the passage of time and associated hormonal and dietary variations. Unlike most other organs, however, skin is also directly affected by exposure to the environment, especially UV irradiation from the sun. Chronic exposure to UV irradiation causes an aged phenotype (photoaging) that is superimposed with aging caused by the passage of time (chronological aging). As a result, areas of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun such as the face, neck, forearms, or back of the hands acquire visible signs of aging more rapidly than other areas of the body. Source: Natural and Sun-Induced Aging of Human Skin


  1. Chronic sun exposure causes photoaging. Naturally aged and photoaged skin tend to share similar biochemical and cellular features but are clinically distinct.

Passage of time and repeated exposure to harmful aspects of the environment alter both the epidermal and dermal compartments of the skin. Clinically, chronologically aged skin appears thin, dry, and finely wrinkled. Photoaged skin typically appears leathery, lax, with coarse wrinkles, “broken”-appearing blood vessels (telangiectasia), and uneven pigmentation with brown spots (lentigines). Source: Natural and Sun-Induced Aging of Human Skin.

  1. Wrinkling and sagging of the skin is accelerated by repeated sunlight exposure.

These findings suggest that the Ue* and Uv* changes observed in human facial skin resemble the actinic aging caused by chronic UV exposure and that this animal model could serve as a useful and reliable tool to analyze the mechanism(s) involved in the UV-induced formation of wrinkling and sagging. The above findings strongly indicate that wrinkling and sagging of the skin is engendered by the preceding reduction of skin elasticity, which is accelerated by repeated sunlight exposure. Thus, the next mechanism to clarify is how skin elasticity is attenuated by repetitive UV irradiation. Source: Biological Mechanisms Underlying the Ultraviolet Radiation-Induced Formation of Skin Wrinkling and Sagging I: Reduced Skin Elasticity, Highly Associated with Enhanced Dermal Elastase Activity, Triggers Wrinkling and Sagging.

  1. Sunlight exposure is one of the several factors contributing to premature aging of the face along with the formation of coarse wrinkles.

With all the elements described in this study, we could calculate the importance of UV and sun exposure in the visible aging of a Caucasian woman’s face. This effect is about 80%. The interactions between chronological and photo-induced aging are complex, and the quantification of only the effect of sun-exposure is difficult to obtain. Our approach of using new descriptive skin-aging atlases is a solution to specify the extrinsic influence. Twenty-two clinical signs are used to describe and assess facial aging, wrinkles and skin texture, sagging of tissues, pigmentation manifestations, and vascular disorders. This study seems to confirm that pigmentation heterogeneity is a pure photoaging sign, whereas sagging of tissues is essentially a result of chronological aging. Vascular disorders could be considered as a precursor of future photoaging. Wrinkles and skin texture are influenced by both extrinsic and intrinsic aging, depending on the behavior of the individual with regard to the sun. The study confirms the accountability of sun exposure in premature aging of the face. Source: Effect of the sun on visible clinical signs of aging in Caucasian skin

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  • One medical case showed a 69-year-old with wrinkling of the skin on the left side of his face:

The patient reported that he had driven a delivery truck for 28 years. Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays transmit through window glass, penetrating the epidermis and upper layers of dermis. Chronic UVA exposure can result in thickening of the epidermis and stratum corneum, as well as destruction of elastic fibers. This photoaging effect of UVA is contrasted with photocarcinogenesis.

  • A report by nlm.nih.gov said in an article:

Within the skin’s epidermal (outer) layer are cells that contain the pigment melanin. Melanin protects skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which can burn the skin, and over time, could reduce its elasticity and cause a person to age prematurely. Suntanning occurs because exposure to sunlight causes the skin to produce more melanin and to darken. The tan fades as these cells move toward the surface and are sloughed off.

  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency reported:

Other UV-related skin disorders include actinic keratoses and premature aging of the skin. Actinic keratoses are skin growths that occur on body areas exposed to the sun. The face, hands, forearms, and the “V” of the neck are especially susceptible to this type of lesion. Although premalignant, actinic keratoses are a risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma. Look for raised, reddish, rough-textured growths and seek prompt medical attention if you discover them.

  • A new study found that regular sunscreen use protects against photoaging: the wrinkling, spotting and loss of elasticity caused by exposure to the sun's ultraviolet radiation.

Conclusion: Regular sunscreen use retards skin aging in healthy, middle-aged men and women. No overall effect of β-carotene on skin aging was identified, and further study is required to definitively exclude potential benefit or potential harm.

  • There is a term now, for skin induced by chronic UVA and UVB exposure, it is called photoaging or photoaging (also known as "dermatoheliosis"), see wikipedia page:

UVB rays are a primary mutagen that can only penetrate through the epidermal (outermost) layer of the skin, resulting in DNA mutations. These mutations arise due to chemical changes, the formation of cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers and photoproducts formed between adjacent pyrimidine bases. These mutations may be clinically related to specific signs of photoaging such as wrinkling, increasing in elastin and collagen damage.[5][6]

  • The FDA warned against photoaging in a post called The Risk of Tanning:

Premature aging is a long-term side effect of UV exposure, meaning it may not show on your skin until many years after you have had a sunburn or suntan. Avoiding UV exposure is essential to maintaining healthy skin.

  • L’Oréal Paris, the world's largest cosmetics company confirmed that sun exposure in premature ageing of the face.

Our study confirms the accountability of sun exposure in premature ageing of the face.

Our comparison between two groups of women, whose sun behaviour was different, has allowed us to clearly demonstrate the effect of UV exposure.

  • Most important evidence for your question: UV rays accounted for 80 per cent of skin ageing, including wrinkles, in a study of almost 300 women ,half sun-worshippers and half shy of the sun. The study also found that a two per cent increase in skin damage ages a face by three years.

With all the elements described in this study, we could calculate the importance of UV and sun exposure in the visible aging of a Caucasian woman’s face. This effect is about 80%.

Conclusion: It is a fact that sunlight exposure causes most of the wrinkles on our faces. It ages us because exposure to ultraviolet light destroys elastin and promotes wrinkles. There is no doubt one should use sunscreen when exposed to the sun.

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  • 3
    So, your answer to the specific question is those last 3 paragraphs - so just one study. Any other studies you are aware of? – Rory Alsop Apr 29 '15 at 12:30

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