While basking in the sun has mental and emotional benefits, it can be sneakily sinister to our health.
In part two of sun protection with the pros, Lackawanna Valley Dermatology Certified Physician Assistant Kara Cordaro details the dangers of unprotected sun exposure, how to keep safe and what to do if you’ve had too much sun.
What can happen to our unprotected skin when exposed to the sun?
Dangers of being out in the sun unprotected include increased risk for sun damage that leads to pre-cancerous lesions; skin cancer; and pre-mature aging including wrinkles, age spots, loss of skin firmness and leathery skin.
If we’re planning to spend a day hiking, laying on the beach, etc., what should we do?
When applying sunscreen, we want to remember to cover from head to toe. I also always recommend to wear a hat. Most men think they’re perfectly safe just in a baseball cap, but I recommend a wide-brimmed Panama Jack-style hat to be sure that all of the sensitive places of our head, delicate skin of our ears and the backside of the neck are protected.
It’s also important for women to wear hats to protect the scalp for those with thinning hair, but also to protect hair color — UV rays are also notorious for extra wear and tear on color-treated hair. UV-protective clothing is becoming more popular for infants and toddlers but is also a great idea for those that want a little extra protection, those with fair skin and those that forget or who don’t have the opportunity to re-apply sunscreen.
Any spots people typically miss when trying to protect themselves from the sun?
Most people tend to think that our nose and back are the most important but tend to forget the other delicate areas including lips, ears and toes. In the dermatology office, it’s crazy how many pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions we find on the lips.
Chapstick with SPF is a lifesaver, especially while on the beach or when out for a run or hike. The combination of salt secretion from sweat mixed with UV radiation (plus being in a body of water) makes the lips burn that much quicker. Sunglasses are another area people tend to forget about. You can grab a cute pair at Forever 21 for maybe $5, but we want to remember that UV damage also is very dangerous for our eyes. The best protection will be found in a pair of polarized sunglasses. They’re a little more pricey, but your eyes will thank you for it.
Let’s say someone works an office job where they’re inside all day. Should they take any sun precautions?
It’s super important for people that work in an office environment to take into consideration where their cubicle or desk is placed. If you are anywhere near a window, please use sun precautions. UV rays penetrate though clouds and also windows. The side of the body facing the window is more likely to burn and, in turn, develop pre-mature aging, so always be prepared and wear SPF daily if working in an environment like this.
Is there anything we can do to help reverse sun damage?
Although we don’t have a time machine to reverse unprotected sun exposure, sun damage is accumulative, so it is never too late to start a sunscreen routine. Sunscreen should also be used every day, and a few of my favorite are brands Blue Lizard, Vanicream and Elta MD (best for those with sensitive skin and also comes in a tinted shade).
Next, the use of antioxidants, such as pure vitamin C, is another way to prevent sun damage, help brighten skin tone and stimulate collagen production to help with the prevention and healing of fine lines, wrinkles and sun spots. Layering vitamin C under sunscreen also can help better protect the skin. Lastly, the use of exfoliation. Exfoliation will help remove the dead, sun-damaged skin cells sitting on the top layer which, in turn, allows healthy cells to come to the surface. Exfoliation can be performed at home in the form of scrubs or with in-office procedures. Microdermabrasion (a non-invasive procedure that uses tiny crystals to remove the layer of dead skin) is an option, as well as chemical peels, like the glycolic acid peels I perform. Exfoliation should be done in moderation, however, as over-exfoliation can lead to irritation and inflammation. These are by no means overnight cures for bringing back baby skin, but with persistence and patience you can be on your way back to healthy, happy — non-leathery — glow.