The warm radiance that seems to dance atop exposed skin; the soft, sun-kissed glow of rose-colored cheeks; the beautiful olive-tone skin characteristic of Mediterranean paradise. What is not to love about the summer sun? There’s a reason we all lay out for hours on end chasing the sunset. But buried below all that adoration is a dirty little secret; the sun is making you age.
We previously touched upon the aging process of the facial skin. We each have an inherited predisposition to age to a certain degree, at a certain rate, if left in complete isolation. But we don’t live in bubbles and each of us encounter external factors that impact the aging process, for better or worse, every day. By far, the most important contributor to accelerated skin aging is UV radiation exposure.
UV radiation is a type of radiation transmitted through sunlight. While not as immediately harmful as some kinds of radiation (think sci-fi stuff like x-rays and gamma ray), it has a number of deleterious effects on the skin. In fact, it is such a strong contributor to accelerated aging that there are two specific names for the skin damage it produces; Dermatoheliosis and Solar Elastosis. Long-term exposure to UV radiation can cause wrinkles, pigmentation irregularities, dryness, vascular blemishes, loss of elasticity, and poor tone. Worse yet, long term exposure can contribute towards malignant changes, leading to a variety of skin cancers.
UV rays come in three main flavors; UV-A, UV-B, AND UV-C. Both UV-A and UV-B affect the skin’s aging process (UV-C is complete absorbed by the atmosphere).
UV-A is the light emitted from tanning beds (but also in sunlight), and is often referred to as “soft” UV. Although it does not produce the metastatic changes associated with UV-B (more to come), it does significantly impact skin aging. UV-A penetrates deeper into the skin than UV-B and leads to the destruction of collagen and other structural proteins. The loss of these proteins creates inelastic, leathery skin.
UV-B is absorbed more superficially and contributes to both aging and metastatic change. These are the rays responsible for sunburns. More importantly, these are the rays responsible for the cellular changes which lead to the development of skin cancer.
Scary stuff; it’s enough to make you want to stay indoors permanently. Fear not though, the vast majority of UV radiation, with all its unpleasant side-effects, can be controlled with the proper use of sunscreen (key word being proper).
If you had to pick one, and only one, skin care product to use, it should be sunscreen. Sunscreen blocks the penetration of both UV-A and UV-B rays, preventing the destructive effect on the facial skin as well as malignant changes. Sunscreens are broadly defined by the way which they prevent the penetration of UV radiation; absorbing rays or reflecting rays. “Chemical” sunscreens, those that contain organic chemical compounds (oxybenzone and avobenzone being the most common), absorb rays. “Mineral” sunscreens, those that contain inorganic minerals (titanium-dioxide and zinc oxide being the most common), reflect rays.
So you are probably asking yourself which is better? The truth is either is better than none, but there is debate about which is better. The chemical sunscreens need to be absorbed by your skin in order to be effective. This raises the concern about absorption beyond your skin and into your blood stream. In fact, trace amount of these chemicals can be found in the blood after use, but this hasn’t been found to cause any specific negative effects. The benefit to using these sunscreens is once absorbed, the protective effect will not wash away with sweat, pool, ocean, etc.
Mineral sunscreens on the other hand can be thought of as a physical barrier, a suit-of-UV-armor against the sun. They are inert and do not get absorbed by the body. The down-side is that once washed away there is little to no protection provided. Most modern sunscreens use a combination of both chemical and mineral active ingredients, maximizing the benefit of both while trying to reduce any theoretic risks.
So what’s the deal with SPF? What does it mean and why is it important? Break out the aspirin and get ready for some math. SPF is a rating of how much UV radiation penetrates through the sunscreen and into the skin. The SPF number represents the denominator of that fraction. So in SPF 15, 1/15th of rays penetrate through. In SPF 30, 1/30th of rays penetrate through, and so on and so forth. The important thing to remember is that you want to use at least SPF 30 or above. Most physicians would agree the SPF 50 is ideal coverage, and that is what we recommend to our patients.
Daily use of sunscreen is vital. We all know to protect ourselves when at the beach or by the pool, but we are exposed to UV radiation daily. Your drive to work? Desk by the window? Walking the dog? Our daily routine involves constant exposure, but we give it little attention. Daily use of appropriate SPF protection, whether in a moisturizer or a dedicated sunscreen, prevents the cumulative effect of our day-to-day exposure. Incorporating sunscreen into your daily routine can help maintain youth and fight against the progression of aging. This is the foundation of any good skin care regimen.
As always, this is a broad overview, and every individual has their own specific needs. If you have questions unique to you, or you just want to learn more, call us to schedule a personalized consultation. Maintain your youth and maximize your results. 860-676-2473