Here in the Northeast we are finally getting some summer weather and with that we need to pay attention to protecting our skin from sun damage.

Signs of sun damage

One of the firsts signs of sun damage usually begins with the uneven appearance of skin tone.  Most experience hyper-pigmentation (brown spots) and some can experience hypo-pigmentation (white spots).  This caused by UV rays effecting the melanin distribution in the skin, when damaged it can over produce in certain areas (hyper) or under produce (hypo).  There are treatments for hyper-pigmentation such as chemical peels, laser and topical products to suppress melanin but not so much when your skin stops producing melanin, which would be best addressed by a dermatologist.  Pigmentation damage can show up in teens and young adults who didn’t apply proper care when playing outdoors, playing sports and going to the beach.

Fine lines and wrinkles will also begin to appear as a result of too much UV exposure.  UVA rays in particular reach the deeper levels of the skin and break down the collagen and elastin fibers in the skin. There are many products and procedures to combat fine lines/wrinkles but these remedies will not be effective if the over exposure of sun continues.

Actinic Keratosis/ Solar Lesions are another form of UV damage.  It shows up as little red spots on the skin that are dry and flaky.  They are non-cancerous lesions but can develop into cancers if they change shape and begin to bleed.  Dermatologist usually freeze these lesions and in cases that are more severe will give you a prescription cream for removal.

Skin cancers such as basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma are the more serious types of UV damage cancers.  Basal and squamous cell cancers are solar cancers and show up after having long term sun damage. Melanomas are a bit different.  They are a more serious type of cancer and the more UV damage you have it increases your chances of developing.  They are also a cancer that can develop in areas where you don’t necessarily have sun exposure such as under the fingernails/toenails.  Melanomas appear darker with varying color somewhat looking like a mole but with an irregular shape border.  if you notice a brown spot that suddenly appears or any changes in an existing mole, schedule an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist immediately.

 Ways to prevent sun damage and enjoy the outdoors

Use SPF 30 – SPF 50.   SPF higher than 50 does not give your more sun protection and still needs to be reapplied through out the day.  These formulations are higher in chemicals and often cause skin irritation.  Most people with sensitive skin have better luck with a physical sunscreen (zinc oxide/ titanium dioxide) Physical sunscreens reflect the UV rays off the skin and chemical sunscreens absorb into the skin providing a barrier.

Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before heading outdoors and reapply every 1 1/2  to 2 hrs.

Wear a wide brim sun hat

Avoid the hours of 10am-2pm when the suns intensity is at its highest and opt for shade. If you’re headed to the beach, pack an umbrella to take a break from the sun.

Cover up or get out of the sun if your skin feels like it’s burned.  Applying more sunscreen at this point will not help as the damage has already occurred.

Pay attention to areas such as ears, tip of nose, lips, upper lip, tops of hands and feet.  These areas are usually neglected.

Avoid tanning beds to prepare your skin for summer, warm weather vacations and to extend the life of your tan.  UV damage is UV damage and it’s cumulative.  Tanning bed rays are mostly UVA and these rays destroy the integrity of the skin fibers and cause skin cancer as they penetrate deeper into the skin causing the most damage. It is misinformation that getting a “base” from indoor tanning is healthier for your skin before heading into warmer weather.

If you can’t stand your winter white legs and arms, opt for a self tan product.  There are many good recommendations online that don’t result in that orange look and are a bit “greener” than the conventional brands on the market.

Enjoy your summer!

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