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Summer Sunshine and Your Skin

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By Judy Latta

With the arrival of summer, many of us look forward to lazy days at the beach, lounging by the pool, gardening, summer sports and other outdoor activities.  Not only do these outings in the sunshine make us feel vibrant and healthy, they can also provide us with a beautiful bronze suntan. The short-lived suntan, however, may not be the only physical change we experience from our time outside. There can also be lasting effects from the sun that are not so desirable.

It is no secret that excessive sun exposure accelerates the skin aging process.  While some of the skin damage caused by the sun is cosmetic, some types of sun damage are much more serious, such as skin cancer, the most common form of human cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer were diagnosed last year.

It is important to understand that the sun emits ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are a form of radiation. These rays can penetrate the layers of the skin and kill healthy skin cells. Sun damage can appear on our faces, necks, hands and elsewhere on our bodies in the form of wrinkles, sagging skin, dark spots, dry skin, or benign or malignant growths.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Tanned skin is damaged skin. Any change in the color of your skin after time outside — whether sunburn or suntan—indicates damage from UV rays. Using a tanning bed causes damage to your skin, just like the sun.”  Although the sun is strongest in the summer, we can actually suffer sun damage during any season, at any temperature, and even on cloudy days when we least expect it.

Protecting Your Skin From Harmful UV Rays

The World Health Organization recommends the following strategies for protecting skin from harmful UV Rays:

Limit time in the midday sun. The sun’s UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. To the extent possible, limit exposure to the sun during these hours.

Watch the UV index. This important resource helps you plan your outdoor activities in ways that prevent overexposure to the sun’s rays. While you should always take precautions against overexposure, take special care to adopt sun safety practices when the UV Index predicts exposure levels of moderate or above.

Use shade wisely. Seek shade when UV rays are the most intense, but keep in mind that shade structures such as trees, umbrellas or canopies do not offer complete sun protection.

Wear protective clothing. A hat with a wide brim offers good sun protection for your eyes, ears, face, and the back of your neck. Sunglasses that provide 99 to 100 percent UV-A and UV-B protection will greatly reduce eye damage from sun exposure. Tightly woven, loose fitting clothes will provide additional protection from the sun.

Use sunscreen. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15+ liberally and re-apply every two hours, or after working, swimming, playing or exercising outdoors.

Avoid sunlamps and tanning parlours. Tanning beds damage skin and unprotected eyes, and are best avoided entirely.

Treating Sun-Damaged Skin

While prevention from overexposure to the sun is the best method of  protecting our youthful appearance, most of us have not been as vigilant over the course of our lives as we should have been, and are now facing the long-term effects of sun damaged skin. Fortunately, modern science has provided us with a range of options, both surgical and non-surgical, as well as prescription and non-prescription, for treating the aesthetic effects of sun damage. The following are some common treatments often recommended by dermatologists and/or cosmetic surgeons.

Facelift: Scientifically known as rhytidectomy, a facelift is plastic surgery to reduce the visible signs of aging on the face and neck. A facelift is major surgery which involves anesthesia and a post-operative recovery period. Facelift surgery is generally considererd to be the most complete and long-lasting treatment for sun damaged skin.

Laser skin resurfacing: Through laser resurfacing, skin imperfections such as wrinkles and age spots are vaporized using pulsating beams of light. The laser beam removes the outer later of damaged skin, the epidermis, and stimulates the underlying layers to promote the growth of healthy skin cells and collagen fibers.

Botox: Technically known as botulinum toxin, botox is injected into particular areas of the face to paralyze wrinkle-producing muscles and nerves.  The effects generally last about three months and then skin reverts to its previous form, requiring regular injections to maintain the benefits.

Dermal fillers: Dermal fillers, or “wrinkle fillers” as they are often known, are substances that are injected into creases in the skin to plump-up the skin’s surface to reduce wrinkles. Fillers can be human fat from your own body, collagen, or other natural or synthetic substances. Most dermal fillers work only temporarily, thus regular injections may be needed to maintain the benefits.

Microdermabrasion and dermabrasion: These are methods of skin refinishing that scrape away the top damaged layers of skin. Microdermabrasion is a relatively simple surface exfoliation process while dermabrasion is a more intensive scraping procedure.

Chemical peels: Also called chemexfoliation or derma peeling, this is a chemical solution that is applied to your face or other area to remove the damaged layer of skin. Chemicals are used in different combinations and dosages to create light, medium or deep treatments depending upon your needs.

Prescription treatments: Two common topical cream treatments for sun-damaged skin that are available only with a prescription are Hydroquinone and Tretinoin. Hydroquinone is used to fade overpigmented skin and improve clarity. Tretinoin increases collagen production to reduce wrinkles and discoloration.

Non-prescription treatments: There is a wide range of over the counter remedies for treating sun damaged skin.  Some common ones are Retinol for stimulating the generation of new skin cells, Alpha Hydroxin Acid for removing dead skin cells, and Alpha-Arbutin for skin lightening.

Natural remedies: Some homeopathic remedies such as soy and coconut oil can contribute to the softening and smoothing of sun damaged skin, and some herbs such as red clover are believed to work as cleansing agents for detoxifying the skin after sun exposure.

Seek Advice From a Qualified Skin Care Professional

If you are experiencing the effects of sun damaged skin, schedule a consultation with your skin care professional to determine which type of treatment would be most appropriate for you. Do this to protect not only your appearance, but also your life; skin cancer can often be detected relatively easily with a comprehensive skin assessment.

The American Academy of Derm­atology offers free skin cancer screenings throughout the year. They can also help you find a dermatologist in your area. Visit their website at www.aad.org for more information.  The American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery can help you find qualified surgeons in your
area.  Visit their websites at www.plasticsurgery.org and www.cosmeticsurgery.org to find out more about the procedures mentioned here.