Health: Sunscreen Tips for Youthful Skin
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The number one thing that ages skin is sunshine. Not only when your skin gets a sunburn, but also the relentless day-to-day exposure that leads to discolored spots, wrinkles and sagging skin.
Don’t be fooled by the sunscreen labeling, as most sunscreens do not protect from all the sun’s rays. If you want youthful skin then your number one skin care strategy is to avoid excessive sun and use a true sunblock.
Just below the spectrum of light that is visible to our eye lies the ultra-violet (UV) light spectrum. First is the longer wavelength UVA (315-400 nanometers), then intermediate UVB (280-315 nm), and last the shortest wavelength UVC (100-280 nm). The shorter wavelengths are more irritating to the surface while the longer wavelengths penetrate the skin and do deeper damage.
The visible light spectrum (400-780nm) gives us our rainbow of colors, starting with violet-indigo-blue-green-yellow-orange and finally red as the light spectrum goes on up into the “infra-red” zone (> 780nm). Infrared rays radiate heat and give us warmth.
UVC is actually the most damaging of the UV rays, causing the skin to burn and promoting cancer. UVC will even kill germs and is known as “germicidal” rays. Fortunately almost all UVC is blocked by the earth’s ozone layer.
UVB causes the familiar sunburn by damaging the skin’s outer layer, the epidermis, leading to dark spots, fine wrinkles, broken surface capillaries, and skin cancers that arise from the epidermis. These are typically gray in color, either smooth or scaly lesions that show up on the face or arms where the skin has been most exposed.
UVA causes the darkening of skin known as suntan and was once thought to be harmless. However, it is now known to be very damaging to the skin. By absorbing into the deeper dermal layers UVA causes the collagen that supports our skin to simply waste away, leading to the thinning and sagging of our skin. UVA is responsible for much of the premature aging of skin.
UVB exposure occurs mainly in the summer months and is at its worst from 10am to 4pm. It does not penetrate glass and is mostly filtered out during winter months. However, the UVA rays are present all year round, all day long, and go right through glass. Even while driving the UVA rays are streaming into the auto and soaking right into exposed skin.
High altitude allows more of the UV rays to get through the atmosphere. This explains why the mountain states have a high incidence of skin cancer and more sun damaged, aging skin.
True Sun Protection
The well-known sun-protection-factor, or SPF, is misleading, outdated, and frankly worthless when it comes to insuring your skin is protected. The SPF ratings only apply to UVB rays. Many products advertise, “Blocking both UVB and UVA.” When in fact only a tiny percentage of the UVA spectrum is really blocked, just enough to allow the marketing, but not even close to the complete blockage we really need.
There are about 15 FDA approved chemicals that will absorb UV rays and are used in various combinations as sunscreens. Some examples include, Octyl Salicylate, the oldest in use, Padimate O, which is the most common in the US, and Octyl Methoxycinnamate, which is the most common worldwide. These sunscreens block a narrow range of UVB light in the 300-315nm range, leaving the UVA spectrum untouched. Thus, other chemical absorbers, such as Oxybenzone and Avobenzone, are mixed in to give more protection up into the UVA range, but they are limited in effectiveness.
Physical blockers, known as metal oxides, are the most effective remedy for truly blocking the UVA and UVB rays. These naturally occurring particles will physically block all UV rays. As well as help protect from wind, and block the heat from infrared rays, which keeps the skin cooler.
Titanium dioxide, used to lighten cosmetic products, blocks most of the UV spectrum but misses a bit of UVA. Zinc Oxide blocks the UVA spectrum well and is commonly blended with titanium dioxide to add full UVA coverage.
Further, the actual protection offered by any and all sun-protective products relates directly to their level of concentration, how long they remain stable when exposed to sun, the film thickness applied to the skin, as well as the careful, total coverage of the exposed skin.
As skin goes through repeated cycles of sunburn and suntan, inflammation and skin darkening occurs, and over time the photo aging and skin cancer develop. The UV rays cause damage to the skin that generates free radicals that react and oxidize any tissue in the area. The inflammation and oxidation lead to skin breakdown and DNA damage that promotes cancer. Even the defenses against infection are impaired as the UV rays suppress the skin’s immune system.
Nutrients can be added to provide direct and indirect protection to the skin. Antioxidants such as vitamins E, C and A, and selenium help clean up the free radicals generated by sun damage. Bioflavonoid antioxidants such as pycnogenol from pine-bark, and resveratrol from grapes, are also found in better products. Studies describe the ability of these highly specialized antioxidant bioflavonoids to augment vitamin C, protect cells and collagen tissue, and also strengthen blood vessels and capillaries.
If you want to preserve your youthful skin, then get a high quality sunblock and apply it generously and regularly. Reapply several times during prolonged outdoor activity. Apply daily to the face and back of the hands where we see the most sun exposure. Remember, it’s easier to keep skin healthy than to reverse years of sun damage.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in Bioidentical Hormone Replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia, weight loss and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.
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