Spring has finally decided to make its appearance, which means warmer weather, longer days and more sunlight. While plenty of people enjoy basking in the sun, the effects it can have on your skin and health are well known.
If you haven’t given up tanning, either under the rays of the real sun or in a tanning bed, learning more about the effect of the sun on your skin, especially as you get older, might be enough to convince you to stay out of the sun.
How soon your skin shows signs of aging, such as dark spots, wrinkles and dryness, depends on a number of factors. Some factors you can’t control, such as your genes, while others you can, such as deciding not to smoke or choosing not to spend hours in the sun.
Sunlight contains two types of ultraviolet (UV) rays. UVA rays play a role in contributing to aging on your skin while UVB rays cause sunburns. UVA rays damage the elastin in your skin, the fiber that plays a big role in keeping your skin supple and smooth. When elastin is damaged, your skin becomes more brittle and thin. It might become loose and saggy and wrinkles will form more easily.
Sun exposure also changes the pigmentation of your skin. Some people think tanned skin looks healthier than pale skin, which is why so many people lie out in the sun in hopes of getting a tan. But, that pigmentation might not work quite how you want it to, meaning you develop sun spots or areas of discoloration all over your skin. Hyperpigmentation is your body’s attempt to shield itself from the damaging rays of the sun.
Tanning Beds are Troublesome, Too
Some people are convinced that going to a tanning salon and getting a tan in a tanning bed is a lot safer than lying out in the sun. Tanning beds actually accelerate aging related to sun exposure. While natural sunlight contains a mix of UVA and UVB rays, tanning beds contain
mostly UVA rays, which go deeper into the skin and cause more damage.
In 2010, an Ohio dermatologist found signs of aging, such as sun spots, on patients as young as age 17. Dark spots can be removed using laser treatments, but the damage can continue if a teenager or adult keeps up the tanning bed habit.
Skin Cancer Risk
Sun exposure doesn’t only increase your risk for signs of photoaging. It also increases your risk for skin cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, women who started using tanning beds before the age of 35 had a nearly 60 percent greater risk of developing melanoma, the most malignant form of skin cancer.
Fighting the Signs of Aging
A number of treatments can help you fight the signs of sun related aging. For example, Obagi Nu Derm system, offered at the Naderi Center, contains ingredients that combat the signs of photoaging, such as hydroquinone, which blocks the product of the melanin pigment and lightens dark spots. Laser treatments can also remove areas of hyperpigmentation or wrinkles related to sun damage.
Protecting Your Skin
No matter how old you are or how many hours you’ve spent in the sun or under a tanning bed, you can still protect your skin from UV rays. Sun protection can help prevent further photo aging and might help you reverse damage that’s already occurred. A 2013 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that sunscreen does provide some anti-aging protection.
The study followed a group of 900 people for four years. Some were told to wear sunscreen, others didn’t receive specific instructions about the use of it. The study found that regular use of sunscreen in people under the age of 55 had a cosmetic benefit in terms of reducing the signs of aging on the skin.
It’s important to choose the right type of sunscreen and to understand how it works. Always look for a broad spectrum sunscreen, which shields against both UVA and UVB rays. The minimum sun protection factor should be 15, but 30 is better. SPF 30 doesn’t offer twice the protection of SPF 15, though, and wearing it doesn’t mean you can sit outside for longer periods of time before re-applying
Wearing sunscreen daily is recommended. It’s also a good idea to avoid excess sun exposure. You can protect your skin from signs of photoaging by staying indoors during the late morning and early afternoon.
Dr. Jessica Kulak is an aging face specialist at the Naderi Center. She is able to treat signs of photoaging and to give you advice on how to prevent future damage. The practice has locations in Maryland and Virginia. To schedule a consultation, call (703) 481-0002 in Virginia or (301) 222-2020 in Maryland.