Monday, May 24, 2010

Protecting Your Skin

Dermatologist Sean T. Gunning, M.D., addressed a full house at Wednesday’s Lunch and Learn session at the Alvin & Lois Lapidus Cancer Institute. Thanks to the graphic images he shared of skin damage, either aging or skin cancer-related, it’s a safe bet that most members of the audience probably won’t be venturing outside again without first applying a hefty dose of sunscreen! Today’s blog entry will cover the aging effects of ultraviolet A (UVA) rays; tomorrow we'll address ultraviolet B (UVB) and vitamin D; and the next day we’ll talk about sunlight and skin cancer.

“Tanning is your body’s response to direct DNA damage by ultraviolet light,” says Dr. Gunning, noting that a peeling, blistering sunburn actually signifies dead cells. The sun depletes the collagen and elastin in your skin, so if you are concerned with keeping your youthful looks, your best bet is to stay out of the sun, use a sunscreen that blocks UVA as well as UVB rays, and cover your head, face and neck as much as possible.

For both anti-aging and anti-cancer measures, Dr. Gunning recommends that you apply sunscreen 2 to 3 hours before you go out, and then again every 2 to 3 hours you spend outside. If you’re swimming or participating in water sports, sunscreen should be reapplied every 40 minutes.

Skin protective factor, or SPF, only measures how well the sunscreen blocks UVB rays, the part of sunlight most responsible for causing skin cancer. Some more advanced products, however, also block UVA rays, the rays that are chiefly responsible for causing age spots and wrinkles. Dr. Gunning recommends that people use a product with a SPF 45 rating that also contains mexoryl, Ti02 or helioplex to block the UVA light.

How do you know if darker blotches on your skin are freckles or age spots? According to Dr. Gunning, freckles will fade with decreased sun exposure, while age spots are permanent.

Somewhat ironically, there’s evidence that the fear of aging is a greater motivator than the fear of cancer in causing women to protect their skin. Recently, a study conducted by a dermatology professor from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine found that college-age females reduced their visits to the tanning bed by 35 percent after being shown images of wrinkles caused by tanning. These same women had been previously unmoved by the dramatic risk of melanoma caused by tanning beds.

While you can’t reverse previous skin damage, you can take steps now to slow down the aging process by protecting yourself from UVA light. Windows, including those in cars, block UVB but not UVA rays. If you’re doing a lot of driving or riding in a car, use a sunscreen that protects against UVA. And when outside, a hat and long sleeves are your friends.

In what ways does your skin show sun damage? What are you doing to protect your skin from UVA rays?

-Holly Hosler

1 comment:

Deborah said...

This is a great post and an important topic. In fact, the Melanoma Research Foundation is reaching out to teens and young adults about tanning and its link to the deadliest type of skin cancer. Most people don’t realize that using tanning beds before age 35 increases your risk of developing melanoma by 75% and occasionally using tanning beds can triple your chances. The research shows that there’s no such thing as a “safe” or “healthy” tan.

We invite all young people to “Take a Stand, Don’t Tan!” with us by signing our online pledge at You can also find really important information about the realities of tanning, read stories from young women who have a history of both tanning and melanoma, and watch our YouTube video about teens facing a big decision as they get ready for the prom. Please help us spread the word so teens and young adults can protect themselves from the potentially life-threatening risk they take with tanning!