Here’s Photographic Proof Of What The Sun Is Doing To Your Face

Photo: Courtesy of Cara Phillips.
UVA, UVB, UVC — nope, not a roll call for universities in Virginia. We’re talking about the three types of ultraviolet radiation. (But we bet you knew that.) While you’re probably most familiar with the first two, UVC is starting to come up in discussions around sun protection. Though UVC rays from the sun are dispersed in the atmosphere before they reach our skin, UVC exposure via compact fluorescent light (you know, those energy-saving curly bulbs) has been shown to cause skin damage, according to a 2012 Stony Brook University study. (The researchers noted that it’s not significant enough for consumers to stop using the bulbs; they just cautioned against using them directly against your skin. Not like you would. Think of how hot that would get!)

Still, however much you may not want to deal with it, or hope it won’t affect you, UV damage is real, and you should be using SPF every day — even if you spend most of your time indoors. But it’s also something the beauty biz sometimes uses as a scare tactic. Skin-imaging devices, such as Visia, can show patients the extent of a lifetime of skin problems — often as a precursor to getting them to sign up for a fancy laser treatment or some other procedure in order to "turn back the clock" (ugh).

The truth is that a good dermatologist doesn’t need to use this kind of imagery to know how to treat sun damage or related aging concerns. And even if you do decide to give lasers a go and blast a few sun spots here and there, there’s no laser powerful enough to zap away everything you’d see in one of the UV photographs we're about to show you.

Yet there is something fascinating (and scary) about seeing how your skin looks in one of these pictures. Photographer Cara Phillips decided to turn the UV images she had captured into a project. Phillips, a former model, uses her work to “explore personal and larger cultural pressures” that surround women and their perception of beauty and aging.

“Art is a great place for us to work out our societal neuroses and examine the times we live in,” says Phillips. “As a former child model, who spent my formative years in front of the camera, I was drawn to the idea of exploring both the relationship between the subject and photographer and what an image can reveal.”

Ahead, she gives us the backstory on her photo series and tells us how comfortable — or uncomfortable — her subjects were in their own skin.
Advertisement
1 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Cara Phillips.
While researching for her first major project, Singular Beauty, an examination of the cosmetic-surgery phenomenon of the early-to-mid 2000s, Phillips discovered UV photography, and wanted to explore the technology herself. “[UV photography] is used by many medi-spas and dermatologists to reveal the ‘future’ skin of their patients,” she says.
2 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Cara Phillips.
Despite the fact that there's no guarantee the damage will ever appear on skin, skin-care brands and doctors often use these images to sell cosmetic treatments and procedures. “These medical portraits were both beautiful and startling; the subjects, with their eyes closed, seemed so vulnerable,” says Phillips.
Advertisement
3 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Cara Phillips.
Phillips set up a roving studio in New York City, and offered to take UV photos of “anyone willing to sit in my chair,” she says. “I had an example of my own portrait so people could see the outcome. There were sometimes as many as 20 people waiting at a time. I photographed babies to people in their late 70s, and almost every ethnicity.”
4 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Cara Phillips.
The skin-care world spends a lot of time and money on ingredients and technology in an attempt to repair or reverse skin damage. It also devotes millions of marketing dollars to selling anti-aging products to women, starting at a very young age, with the main message being that aging is bad and something to fight against. Those messages often include photographs of women with “flawless” or “ageless” skin, a nearly impossible ideal. This is what makes Phillips’ photos so stunning in comparison.
5 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Cara Phillips.
“What is surprising to me about these images is not so much what they reveal about the subjects' skin damage, but the questions they raise about the definition of what makes a beautiful photographic portrait. That, of course, leads back to aging and flaws,” Phillips says. “With the dominance of Photoshop and digital manipulation — Instagram filters, etcetera — we only see perfected or enhanced images.”
6 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Cara Phillips.
This brings up questions about how these images affect women’s perceptions of how they “should” look, what products they “must” buy, and whether there is a “right” way to age. “I love great beauty products; I worked in the industry for many years. Self-care can make you feel good, but the amount of money and time women spend on their physical selves can really take away from other valuable pursuits,” says Phillips. “And that, I think, is where it becomes a cultural issue.”
7 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Cara Phillips.
A few of Phillips’ subjects, mostly women, said they didn’t want to see themselves photographed in this way. “They were too afraid to see how ‘horrible’ they would look,” she says. “But for the most part, even when people saw their [images], they would say, ‘Oh my god, look at all my flaws and marks. But what a beautiful picture.’”
Advertisement
8 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Cara Phillips.
Surprisingly, says Phillips, younger women were the most critical of themselves in their photos. “There was one man who really hated his photo. But overwhelmingly, the response has been positive,” she adds.
9 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Cara Phillips.
On a practical note, many of Phillips' subjects said they were going to “start using sunscreen more often” after seeing their UV photos, she says.
10 of 11
Photo: Courtesy of Cara Phillips.
It would be good for us all to find a new way to think about aging, starting with banning the prefix “anti.” Aging is not something to be against; it’s something to embrace. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to diminish dark spots or wrinkles if that makes sense for your life. It’s more about allowing women to age, and not judging them harshly for doing — or not doing — something to their faces at the first sign of a frown line.

But for many women, it’s not that simple. “I have my own body and self-esteem challenges, a lovely souvenir of my modeling days and other childhood experiences, so aging is a complex issue,” Phillips says. “I want to embrace the idea of loving my wrinkles and the natural evolution of my body, but in practice it is not so easy.”
11 of 11
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!
Advertisement

More from Skin Care