Skin Mapping Shows Early Signs of Sun Damage

June 27, 2005 — -- The warnings about the link between excessive exposure to sunlight and skin cancer are well-known: one in five Americans will get skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Melanoma kills more young women than any other cancer, and the risk of developing it has doubled in the past decade.

Now dermatologists have a new way to show patients how the sun has damaged the skin with the help of ultraviolet photography.

Doctors take a traditional Polaroid picture of a patient and compare it with another picture taken with a UV-light camera, which exposes damage beneath the surface of the skin.

"All these little dark spots -- especially on your nose and on your forehead -- those are all markers of sun damage and activity that's going on beneath the surface of the skin," said Dr. Mona Mofid of the American Melanoma Foundation, while examining the UV photo. "All of these areas are the areas that are going to wrinkle. They're also areas that can contribute to the development of skin cancer."

Using the UV analysis, sun damage can be seen in children as young as 12.

Skin may look regular and uniform in color, but under UV light, doctors can see the actual nature of the damage.

"Even if somebody has never sunburned, if they've had enough times in the sun just to get tanned, this is the kind of damage you can see," said Dr. Darrell Rigel, a dermatologist at the New York University Medical Center. "What you're seeing is kind of what her face might look like 10 to 20 years down the line. You're just seeing it earlier with this special camera."

Researchers say that the images can be a powerful wake-up call for many people.

It also serves as a reminder that using proper sun protection not only prevents any further skin damage, it allows the body to actually repair some of the damage over time.

ABC News' John McKenzie filed this report for "World News Tonight."