Avoid Sun Harm

There’s no upside to a lack of sun protection. Exposure increases your cancer risks and decreases your attractiveness.

Although smoking, genetics, and the normal aging process all play a role in skin changes, they are not the most significant factors. There is no dispute that chronic sun exposure is the most common cause of unwanted skin changes that occur in most people as they age. Take it from a doctor who has been examining people’s skin for over 20 years— those aged far north of 65 have minimal wrinkles and signs of sun damage if they have practiced strict sun avoidance over their lifetimes or protected their skin properly, while those south of Medicare age may look far older if they have disregarded proper skin care.

There are three major wavelengths of light that affect your skin: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA and UVB rays are the primary wavelengths that affect your skin in a negative way.

UVB rays are the shorter wavelengths, which do not penetrate deeply into the skin; these are the primary rays responsible for sunburns. They also are the major cause of squamous cell carcinomas, an aggressive type of skin cancer. The “good” thing about UVB rays? They can be effectively blocked by most sunscreens.

UVA rays, the longer and more dangerous rays, penetrate deeply into the skin and are very difficult to block with conventional sunscreens. Although UVA rays are not the major cause of sunburns, they are responsible for sun-induced skin damage, and may be the primary cause for a common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinomas, as well as the most deadly and dangerous skin cancer, melanoma.

Chronic sun exposure causes both a significant decrease in the production of collagen and a breakdown of whatever collagen exists; it also destroys skin’s elastic tissue. The result is a loss of elasticity and bounce in your skin. This is the most common reason why people seek out facial volume restoration by utilizing fillers or surgical means (such as face lifts).

When elasticity is lost, fine lines and deep wrinkles increase. Other common but unappealing changes are an increase in brown spots (lentigines), brown patches (melasma), yellowing, and unevenness and roughness in skin texture.

The only ways to prevent the sun from causing unsightly changes in your skin are sun avoidance or the regular use of sunscreens. Since most boaters love to be in the sun, they should choose the second option and select broad spectrum sunscreens that help block both UVA and UVB rays (most sunscreens on the market today are broad spectrum). If you’re someone who has trouble remembering to use your sunscreen before heading out on the boat, I’d advise you to start applying sunscreen on a daily basis, regardless of the forecast or your outdoor activities. I’d even encourage you to use a moisturizer that contains a sunscreen in the fall and winter months so that it becomes a regular behavior and a good habit.

Another good habit to adopt is applying sunscreen in the morning, giving it a chance to absorb into your skin; this improves its effectiveness before you start sweating. Always re-apply sunscreen if you are outside for more than two hours, and pick a product that you don’t mind putting on— if you hate the feel of it, you won’t use it! I suggest trying to find sunscreens that contain both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (physical blockers), because these ingredients tend not to sweat off as easy.

Enjoy your summer and have fun, but be responsible. Skin cancers are one of the few cancers still on the rise. In particular, melanoma is a disease affecting both the young and old, and its incidence has reached epidemic proportions. Besides applying sunscreen, perform skin self exams on a monthly basis, looking for beauty marks or growths that are changing in color, shape, or size, or are bleeding. It is also essential that you see a health care professional who is well versed in skin cancer detection and prevention. Schedule your appointment for before or after boating season, but make this a yearly life-prolonging skincare habit. You’ll look great and feel even better!

Emmanuel R. Loucas, MD is the Director of the Loucas Dermatology & Laser Center, 69 East 76th Street in New York www.loucasdermatology.com and is also Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

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Dr. Loucas was listed as one of New York Super Doctors 2012 in the May 20th 2012 issue of The New York Times Magazine.