Recent studies have made a notable effort to understand how the environment (mostly the sun) damages our skin. However, a group of gerontologists attending this year's Basel Life Science Week in Switzerland (Sept. 21-24) will argue a better effort could be made.

Long-term exposure to the sun's UV radiation (UVR) prematurely ages the skin, a process known as photoaging. The goal is to mitigate these harmful effects, which is why so many of us slather on sunscreen before we leave the house. To Polina Mamoshina, an expert in skin aging at InSilico Medicine, this is part of the problem.

"Unfortunately, recent studies show that modern sunscreen compounds do not provide complete protection and most of the UV-filters out there have serious side-effects," Mamoshina explained in a press release. "We need to develop better ways to offset the effects of photoaging so that people can enjoy the sun without worrying about what effect it will have on their skin, and the first step towards that is to understand how photoaging works on the ground level."

What Is Photoaging, Exactly?

It's normal (and unfortunately unavoidable) for human organs to chronologically age. The skin, however, ages differently because of its increased environmental exposure. In fact, exposure to UVR ages human skin more than any other environmental factor. While chronological aging occurs exclusively with the passage of time, photoaging happens only when the skin is frequently exposed to UVR.

UV light harms the fibers in the skin called elastin. When these fibers break down, the skin begins to stretch, bruise, tear, sag, and lose its ability to go back into place after it's been stretched. This leads to leathery skin, age spots, and premature wrinkles, which can appear anywhere on the body, but most notably on the nose, cheeks, and neck — the more sun exposure, the quicker these effects take hold.

With evidence suggesting sunscreen may not be providing us with complete protection, Mamoshina utilized InSilico Medicine’s GeroscopeTM software to examine and compare pathway dysregulation — impaired communication between cells — of over 2,000 samples of chronologically aged and photoaged skin. She'll present her findings to her peers this September.

Ultimately, Mamoshina hopes this software will one day allow her team to integrate new anti-aging treatments, also known as geroprotectors, in the photoaging process and enable others to better protect themselves from the sun.