Ah, don’t you just love the feel of those warm sun rays enveloping you as you lay out on the beach listening to the gentle roll of the ocean waves, the sound of sea gulls crying overhead and small children playing on the beach? In cold days of winter such as we are having now, we long for the warmth and fun of a Florida summer. I don’t know about you but I did not come to Fernandina Beach for 29 degree temperatures with wind chills in the single digits!
But as we wait for the Florida Sun we all know and love to return, now is a good time to think about what we do to our skin when we regularly expose it to the sun’s penetrating ultra-violet light rays.
Often, we think we do not need to worry about adverse affects of sun, such as aging, spots, wrinkling and cancer, until we are older. Dismissing concerns about the effects of sun exposure is so easy to do, especially if we think that just getting a nice “golden glow” or base tan is safe and exposure in moderate amounts is a sun use philosophy that will protect us from harm.
What most people do not understand or realize about sun exposure that it is cumulative. We may think that if our tan is gone then the skin has returned to baseline or “forgiven and forgotten” the insult and resulting skin damage.
Unfortunately, nothing is farther from the truth.
The skin has an amazing capacity for remembering what we did to it last year, the year before and the year before that. Our DNA sees to it! Even old sunburns of childhood have left their mark on our DNA. With each exposure to the sun, large or small, the human body sets mechanisms in motion within the DNA to initiate a healthy response in an attempt to inhibit or prevent malfunctioning biological reactions such as cancerous cell replication, collagen breakdown and destruction of elastin.
It was once thought that the most damaging UV rays doing the most damage to our skin in the northern hemisphere during summer were UVB rays. These are the ones penetrating the atmosphere, reaching earth’s surface and responsible for the “tanning” that occurs to the epidermal layer of the skin. At one time, these UVB rays were thought to be the only rays we needed to block to be adequately protected from the ravages of sun exposure.
However, in the 1980’s scientists discovered that UVA rays had the potential to be even more damaging to the skin. UVA rays penetrate below the surface skin layer or epidermis into the dermis. UVA rays go through glass and create free radicals. They can and do interfere with the DNA’s ability to repair itself and inhibit the immune system among other things.
According to the CDC, “Scientists believe that UVA radiation can cause damage to connective tissue and increase a person’s risk for developing skin cancer. UVB rays penetrate less deeply into skin, but can still cause some forms of skin cancer…SPF does not refer to protection against UVA. (Only) products containing Mexoryl, Parsol 1789, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or avobenzone block UVA rays” (cdc.gov).
When exposed to the sun our collagen in the dermal layer breaks down at a higher rate than would occur normally had we not been exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The damaged collagen fibers initiate a cascade of biological events that lead to “disorganized collagen fibers known as solar scars and overtime cause wrinkles to develop” (Dermatology.about.com).
Usually, the first indication that our skin is reacting to sun exposure is the appearance of freckles, brown spots or age spots. This is known as hyper-pigmentation. For some, hypopigmentation may occur which appears as white spots or a complete lack of melanin or pigmentation in response to sun exposure. As sun damage progresses, one begins to note wrinkling of the skin and a “thickening” or “toughening” that occurs in the skin’s outermost layers. In this instance, being “thicked skinned” may not be a good thing.
Of course, there is the risk of skin cancers that can occur with sun exposure such as basil cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and the most deadly of all skin cancers; melanoma. However, skin cancers are not the topic of this article.
If any one of our readers doubts the difference in the skin quality before and after chronic sun exposure just take a look at the biceps of an outdoors construction worker. Note where the hem of the short sleeve stops and the skin starts. It is obvious that the non-exposed skin sheltered under the fabric of the shirt sleeve has a bright even skin tone, is smoother than the rest of the extremity, has less wrinkling and likely has no hyper-pigmentation (spots or freckles) unless born with them. It’s the kind of skin anyone would want covering their own face and body! Just like a baby’s behind. This is what all of our integument would look like if we kept it protected from the sun throughout our lifetime. Amazing, huh?
Now that know about the harmful effects of UV to make us afraid to go out in the sun or make us want to bury our head (and bodies) in the sand what are we sun lovers supposed to do? Some might ask, “Are you advocating that we renounce the beach and all sun tanning?
No, not exactly, that’s not practical or fun. But we do highly recommend protection that makes sense and really protects from the sun’s harmful rays.
Skin care products that address UVA and UVB protection are a good start but if we are to protect ourselves from the appearance of hyperpigmentation, wrinkles and the thick-skinned “leathery” look of over exposure to the sun, we need to go even further in choosing a skin care regimen that allows us to enjoy moderate amounts of sun without accelerating the skin aging process. This requires a comprehensive skincare program that includes peptides for strengthening skin structure, retinol for wrinkle reduction, and firming the skin as well as moisturizing that is effective enough to make a noticeable difference. Sunscreen shielding should effectively fight free radicals while providing prolonged UVA/UVB protection.