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Photoaging or photodamage is premature aging resulting from prolonged and repeated exposure to solar radiation. It is a form of extrinsic aging. Unlike intrinsic aging or physiological aging, photoaging produces a lot of the cosmetically undesirable changes of the skin. Photoaging is responsible for majority of the facial cosmetic concerns in fair-skinned populations – particularly those with skin phototypes I, II, and III where the prevalence of clinically detectable photoaging may be as high as 80-90%.


Photoaging occurs due to chronic exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet light. In addition to sun exposure, other environmental factors like cigarette smoking and air pollution such as lead (from soot, exhaust, industry), nitrogen oxide (from car exhaust), Sulphur oxide (from industrial plants), and ozone (from ground level) also contribute to premature skin aging. Photoaging skin looks wrinkled, lax, yellowed, rough and sometimes leathery with spotty hypopigmentation and hyperpigmentation. 


Risk factors for photoaging include older age, male sex, skin phototypes I to III, high occupational or recreational sun exposure. Also, the amount of time over a lifetime spent in sunlight is a key risk factor for photoaging.

Photoaging in individuals with phototypes I-IV typically result in fine and deep wrinkles, mottled pigmentation, loss of translucency and elasticity, dry skin and yellow sallow color, hyperpigmentation and various specific skin lesions e.g actinic keratosis.

Photoaging in individuals with phototypes V-VI generally occurs 10-20 years later than in the other phototypes due to less predisposition to sun damage. This is because in individuals with heavily pigmented skin, there is greater photoprotection due to –

  • Increase in number and size of melanosomes
  • More melanin contents
  • Wider distribution in epidermis
  • Slower degradation of melanosomes

In darker skin changes typically seen in photoaging include prominent nasolabial folds due to increased laxity, but fewer wrinkles. Also, patches of uneven skin color, mottled skin pigmentation, and various specific skin lesions e.g seborrheic keratosis.

There are several modalities to combat photoaging varying from topical facial products to laser treatments. Topically applied facial cosmetic products produce measurable improvements in the characteristics of the skin associated with photoaging. Photoaging can be partially prevented and reversed by proper sun protection and various prescription medications.

Be sure to consult your healthcare provider for concerns about photodamage.