A study of hundreds of women has revealed that those who avoided the sun’s rays looked up to 20 years younger than they actually are.
The intriguing finding comes from a study of 231 women of all ages who were quizzed about their lives, including whether they were sun-worshippers.
When researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in the US - commissioned by skincare firm Olay - guessed how old the women were, they found those who took care in the sun tended to have aged more slowly.
A second study, also by Olay, suggested that low-level day to day exposure to the sun is more aging that occasional, intense blasts.
Finally, DNA examination of tiny samples of the women’s skin gave some insight into the damage done by the sun.
A gene called CDKN2A was more active in facial skin that is exposed to the elements than on samples taken from the buttocks. This gene was also more active in women who said they loved the sun – and in those who looked older.
Dr Kimball said CDKN2A activity is a sign that a cell is ‘tired out’ and urged women should protect their skin year round and not just when on a beach holiday.
She added: ‘It’s not just what you are born with, it’s also what you do with it.’
Dr Frauke Neuser, principal scientist at Olay, said: ‘This research gives us a detailed picture of the effect of sun exposure on skin aging and illustrate the importance of protection on a daily basis.’
Matthew Gass, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: ‘When it comes to skin aging prevention is more important than a cure, as once damage has occurred it is very hard to hide or reverse it.’
He said that while UV light is a ‘major culprit’, smoking is also very damaging.
In a study, reported in the medical journal Clinical, Cosmetic And Investigational Dermatology in 2013, researchers wanted to calculate for the first time the effect of sunlight alone.
They found that UV rays accounted for 80% of skin aging, including wrinkles. Long-term UV exposure lead to pigmentation, reduced skin elasticity and a degradation of skin texture, including yellowing.