Skin Protection for All Seasons

Skin Protection for All Seasons

If you haven’t heard about the damage the sun can do to your skin, you’re probably living in a cave, so it doesn’t matter anyway. But if you’re like the rest of us Earth-surface dwellers, the sun packs a wallop and can create quite a lot of damage to the skin. There are some guidelines you can follow to keep your skin supple and soft and to avoid sun damage.Sun is not bad, but overexposure is. Sun is necessary for the body to manufacture vitamin D, and a dose of sun helps boost spirits and vitality. In reasonable doses, sunlight enables natural immunity, promotes skin growth and healing, stimulates hormone production, and contributes to an overall sense of well-being.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is helped by sunlight. Getting some sunlight for 15 or 20 minutes a day enables the body to manufacture vitamin D naturally and is responsible for the synthesis of the pigment melanin, the skin's natural sunscreen. The trouble begins when excessive exposure, coupled with the fact that the ozone layer is eroding, allows more of the harmful UV rays to reach the Earth's surface. Sun exposure is the skin's most dangerous enemy. If you're not convinced, compare the color and texture of the skin where it has been exposed to the sun with an area that has been protected, such as the abdomen. Notice how the sun-protected skin is smooth and evenly colored, whereas the exposed skin may be coarse and discolored. Sun exposure accumulated over a lifetime causes most of the changes to the skin associated with aging such as wrinkling, brown spots, broken blood vessels, sallowness, roughness, and cancer. Sunbathers and outdoors enthusiasts can be at risk for overexposure.

Just as the ancients revered that life-giving orb, so, too, are we a society of sun worshippers, pursuing the perfect golden tan. At one time, having tanned skin was considered unfashionable by the socially elite and a stigma that distinguished them from the working class. They covered up with chic hats, parasols, and even gloves in order to preserve their fair complexions. Around the 1940s, having a tan came to indicate that one was athletic and physically fit. The idea that being sun-kissed was key to a vibrant, healthy look has stuck ever since, although with more cautions in place now than ever before. There are obvious and well-known potential problems from sun worshipping. The American Academy of Dermatology calls skin cancer the “undefined epidemic.” It is the most prevalent of all cancers and has increased at an alarming rate, with more than 900,000 cases reported annually. The American Cancer Society has determined that melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is the most frequent form of cancer occurring in women between the ages of 25 and 29. For women aged 30 to 34, the rate of melanoma occurrence is second only to breast cancer. Others at high risk include people with fair skin that tends to burn or freckle and those with red or fair hair or pale eyes are at the highest risk.

Surrounded by Skin

Our bodies are sheathed by three different layers of skin -- the stratum corneum (or subcutaneous tissue), the dermis, and the epidermis. The job of the stratum corneum is to protect the underlying layers of skin from infection and dehydration, and to provide energy and insulation. The dermis is the tough "middle" layer that consists mostly of connective tissue. The outermost layer, the epidermis, has six sublayers, which manufacture lipids, fatty substances that hydrate the corneum. The epidermis is composed of dead cells (called squamae) and keratin. Combined, these two outermost layers of skin act to give our skin strength and make us waterproof. They are also the layers susceptible to the damaging effects of sunburn. UVB rays, dubbed the "burning rays," target the upper layers of skin, and actually break down DNA and RNA, causing free-radical damage and cell mutation. UVA rays, referred to as the "silent killers," penetrate farther and destroy the collagen matrix. These rays cause skin aging and are also likely to cause skin cancer. UVC rays are considered the most dangerous, causing damage with even short exposure. Skin cancer develops when genes in skin cells are damaged by ultraviolet radiation (UVR), which is invisible and cannot be felt on the skin. It penetrates deeply into our cells, causing changes that can lead to sunburn, skin aging, eye damage, and skin cancer.

Sunscreens vs. Sunblocks

SPF stands for sun protection factor, and is a measure of the sunscreen’s ability to filter out UVB rays. The higher the SPF number, the more protection you get. Higher factor sunscreens should not be used to increase the amount of time you spend in the sun, but to increase your protection. The sun does not need to feel hot to damage your skin. UV levels are highest around midday, but the maximum temperature often occurs late in the day, when the Earth’s surface has had time to warm up. The heat in the sun comes from infrared rays, not UV rays – you can still burn on cool days. Here are the factors which affect the amount of UVR:
  • Time of day – UVR is most intense when the sun is high in the sky, around midday.
  • Time of year – the highest risk months in North America are usually May to September. Near the equator UVR remains high all year round.
  • Reflection – UVR can be reflected back from surfaces such as snow, sand, light paint, tiles, cement, and water.
  • Cloud cover – you can still burn on a day when there is thin cloud cover, but heavy cloud cover does offer some protection.
Sunscreen is often not enough to prevent a sunburn. Individuals taking certain medications, including Tetracycline or even herbal remedies such as St. John's Wort and Lomatium can increase sun sensitivity. Sunblocks contain mineral salts, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, to scatter the sun's rays, reflecting them away from your tender skin. Sunscreens, on the other hand, allow for the absorption of a minimal amount of UV rays, filtering them into a harmless infrared wavelength. The only FDA-approved natural sunscreen component is PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), a B vitamin.

Other agents commonly found in sunscreen products include octyl methoxycinnamate (obtained from cinnamon or cassia), octyl salicylate (derived from sweet birch, wintergreen, and willow), and other botanicals that offer anti-inflammatory or antioxidant qualities, such as aloe vera, black walnut, milk thistle, green tea extract, chamomile, eucalyptus, and mint. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go out into the sun. Apply liberally and evenly over all your exposed skin to ensure complete coverage. And remember your ears and scalp, especially if you have thin or thinning hair. Use a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher whenever you'll be outdoors. Children should use waterproof sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher.

Keep babies under six months of age out of the sun completely and consult a doctor before applying sunscreen. Most children rack up between 50% and 80% of their lifetime sun exposure before age 18, so it's important that parents teach their children how to enjoy fun in the sun safely. With the right precautions, you can greatly reduce your child's chance of developing skin cancer. Reapply, as needed - and be sure to reapply after swimming, perspiring, vigorous activity, or toweling off. Just one day in the sun can result in a burned cornea and cumulative exposure can lead to cataracts later in life (clouding of the eye lens, which results in blindness).

How to Be Sensibly in the Sun and Counteract Potential Damage
  • Vitamin C: Too much sun depletes vitamin C from the body, and vitamin C helps in the defense against sunburn. Vitamin C could also help regenerate the skin damaged by too much sun.
  • Vitamin E: An antioxidant which enhances skin immunity. Applying vitamin E oil after a sunburn also helps heal the skin.
  • Lycopene: A powerful antioxidant that may be an important defense mechanism against the adverse effects of UV irradiation on the skin.
  • Zinc oxide: Used with calamine lotion or alone, zinc oxide has been used to treat burns and skin irritations. Zinc is a natural sunscreen, and topical zinc could help decrease the number of damaged or sunburned skin cells formed from UV light.
  • Witch hazel: Commonly used for bruises and swelling, but can also help against sunburn. This makes it an ideal sunscreen ingredient.
  • Aloe: The most common kitchen remedy for burns and minor wounds, known as well for its sunburn-healing qualities, aloe may also help the immune system of the skin.
  • Plantain: Your average garden weed plantain contains allantoin, the same soothing ingredient as aloe.
  • Calendula: The marigold, or calendula, reduces inflammation and stimulates new cell growth.
  • Veggies: A slice of cucumber or mashed eggplant also cools burning skin.
Proactive skin care, will help you keep your skin youthful and healthy. Good skin care — such as avoiding the sun, washing your skin gently, and applying moisturizer regularly — can help delay the natural aging process and prevent many skin problems. If you follow these simple skin-care habits, it will help you protect your skin to keep it healthy and glowing for years to come.
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