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UV damage contributes to “leathery” skin through changes to collagen fibres

Photo by Montavius Howard via Wikimedia Commons

A new study may have identified how ultraviolet (UV) radiation can alter the microstructure of human skin by altering collagen, contributing to the development of a “leathery” texture over time.

“We don’t want to put a fear factor in here saying ‘don’t go out in the sun,’” said senior author Guy German, PhD, in a press release. “But extended periods of time under UV light can toughen up your skin as well as lead to a higher risk of carcinogenic problems.”

Dr. German is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y.

The lead author of the paper was Binghamton PhD student Abraham Ittycheri.

The new study builds on previous research from Drs. German and colleagues focused on the outer stratum corneum. This time, the Binghamton team compared full-thickness skin samples before and after various levels of UV exposure.

“One way to characterize the material characteristics of skin is by conducting a mechanical stretch test on it,” Ittycheri said in the release. “If it stretches very easily, it’s relatively compliant, but if it’s much harder to stretch it, you can characterize it as much stiffer. My experiment was to see what the isolated effects of UV light would be and compare it with a scenario where the skin is not exposed to UV light.”

The researchers found that as the skin absorbed more UV radiation, the collagen fibres in it became more tightly packed together, leading to increased stiffness and tissue that is harder to break. Dr. German said he sees correlations with the cross‐linkage theory of aging, which proposes that the accumulation of undesirable molecular bonds over time can cause cellular dysfunction.

“Any kind of disruption to the normal process of the skin is going to be extremely dangerous and detrimental to our overall lifestyle,” Ittycheri said. “That’s not even going into the cosmetic side of things, where a person’s perception about themselves can be challenged when their skin does not look good.”


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