Summers spent poolside and sunny vacations during winter can do more than provide relaxation. Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays leaves behind lasting damage on the skin - including wrinkles, leathery or sagging skin and brown spots. In fact, more than 90 percent of these visible changes commonly attributed to skin aging are caused by the sun.
Though sun damage is cumulative, there are ways to repair, and even reverse the damage.
"Contrary to popular belief, the harmful effects of exposure to UV radiation can be almost immediate," said Skin Cancer Foundation Senior Vice President Deborah S. Sarnoff, M.D. "That's why practicing proper sun protection is so critical. You'll help prevent future damage and you may even reverse some of the damage that has already been done."
In addition to premature skin aging, the sun's UV rays play a significant role in the development of skin cancer. In fact, about 86 percent of melanomas and 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to its UV rays. Adopting a complete sun protection regimen is easy, and it's vital to enjoying the sun safely. This includes seeking shade, covering up with clothing (including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses) and wearing sunscreen daily.
To help stop or reverse sun damage, Sarnoff and The Skin Cancer Foundation recommend the following:
•Apply sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher every day: Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher for daily use; SPF 30 or higher for extended outdoor activities) is one of the keys to keeping skin looking fresh and youthful. In fact, research shows people who use sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher daily show 24 percent less skin aging than those who do not use sunscreen daily. By reducing daily sun exposure, sunscreen allows the skin time to heal and the immune system the chance to repair some of the existing damage.
•Exfoliate: The buildup of dead cells on the outermost skin layer can make skin appear rough, blotchy and uneven. Loofahs, scrubs, alpha hydroxy acid cleansers and home microdermabrasion kits (in which tiny crystals are sprayed on the skin) can remove dead skin cells, leaving skin looking smoother.
•Bleach the brown spots - These spots, officially known as solar lentigos, occur as a result of sun damage accumulated over time. Treat them with an over-the-counter product that contains bleaching ingredients such as kojic acid, bilberry, Vitamin C or mulberry leaf extract. Visit a dermatologist for a prescription-strength cream. A product containing a combination of hydroquinone, tretinoin and a mild steroid is useful for stubborn brown spots and blotchy brown discoloration.
•Hydrate - Exposure to sun, chlorine and salt water can dry out the skin - including the heels of the feet. Try a hand and body cream, and, for the heels, a moisturizing foot cream. A moisturizer with AHA or facial serum with hyaluronic acid can plump up dry skin around the eyes, making the skin instantly appear less wrinkled. Continued use may help stimulate the production of new collagen, a protein that helps give skin its texture and firmness.
•Try a light-emitting diode - Light-emitting diodes are electronic light sources, and some home units are available. A lower energy LED can help promote collagen production and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
The Skin Cancer Foundation is the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, early detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research. Since its inception in 1979, the foundation has recommended following a complete sun protection regimen that includes seeking shade and covering up with clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, in addition to daily sunscreen use.
For more information, visit SkinCancer.org.