By: Jean Johnson for Wounds1
For good skin health it’s lotions and potions all the way – especially sunscreen. Indeed, Portland, Ore. dermatologist, Kristin Stevens, M.D., Ph.D., said the bottom line to stave off skin problems related to age and cancer “is to get into the routine of applying sunscreen to exposed skin every day, especially on the face, neck, and backs of the hands. And because our skin often dries out as we get older, regular application of an all-over body moisturizer can also keep skin looking and feeling more youthful.”
|Protect Your Skin|
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends the following safety tips for protecting the skin against ultra-violet light that causes skin cancer:
When in the sun, seek shade
Cover up with hats and sunglasses
Use sunscreen often and with a decent SPF
Avoid tanning beds
For further information on tanning beds see the Skin Cancer Foundation at www.skincancer.org
“That doesn’t surprise me,” said Joan Roberts of Gallup, New Mexico, who is on the high side of living 50 years under the bold New Mexico sun. “In the Southwest you can feel it right away if you don’t get your lotions and potions on. After I shower, for example, I’ll be terribly uncomfortable and itchy if I don’t use an expensive rich cream all over, especially my arms and legs. And my face. When I get up in the morning the skin feels tight and dry. Once I go through my routine that includes some very nice products with SPF 15, I feel 10 years drop away.” Roberts laughs. “Not that my husband has mentioned any dramatic changes, mind you.”
Roberts has spent decades under the bright blue Southwest sky where the dazzle of the sun at high noon in the summer is almost too much to bear. Still, she’s been out in it, logging more miles in the Grand Canyon than most women and occasionally helping Navajo, or Diné, friends herd sheep out on the reservation in the red rock country. “I love the character lines those Diné women get on their faces after years in the sun and wind and rain. To me they are fabulously gorgeous – all that humility etched into their brows and around their eyes by nature itself,” she said. “But what can I say. I’m an Anglo in my heart, and for better or worse, my culture makes different demands on women.”
Issues of beauty aside, Dr. Stevens is concerned more about current rates of skin cancer or melanoma. “In 2005, it is estimated that there will be over 105,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed. That’s a 10 percent increase from 2004,” Stevens said. “One person dies from melanoma each hour in the United States, and melanoma is now the most common form of cancer in women ages 25 to 29. In fact, skin cancer is rising in men and women of all ages; if current trends continue one in five Americans will develop some type of skin cancer during their lifetime.”
Many believe that the disease is one of the affluent classes and seen largely in members of societies who have the time and resources available to play in the sun or plunk down hard-earned cash at tanning bed counters. But Stevens said, “This is not considered to be true, since rural farmers or others who work outside in construction, for example, have a high incidence of skin cancer as well.”
Skin cancer is on the rise in part because many people have bought into the myth that tanned skin is healthy and desirable. “Most people think they look better with a tan, but there is nothing healthy about it. Every time a person tans, they accumulate damage that at the very least results in age spots and wrinkles, not to mention an increased risk of skin cancer.”
Stevens also points out that just like breast cancer, early detection is better with skin cancer. “New moles or those that are changing in size, shape, or color, or a sore that is not healing, can all be warning signs,” said Stevens. “But human nature tends to say ‘well, this isn’t too bad so I’ll deal with it later.’ Melanomas, however, are always easier to treat when they are early. Once they grow deeper, they can spread outside of the skin to the lymph nodes and beyond, making treatment much more difficult.” That said, Stevens, adds that “over half of the diagnosed melanomas are ones that patients find themselves, so people are getting the message and keeping on eye on their skin.”
Stevens also singles out sunscreen as the key to maintaining youthful skin. “The main thing that ages the skin is overexposure to ultraviolet light from either the sun or tanning booths. That’s what accounts for skin thinning, sagging and wrinkling. So it’s UV light more than simply gravity and aging,” she said. “Consequently, sunscreen should be the foundation of the entire skin care regimen. There’s no point in investing much money in anti-age creams if you’re not using sunscreen daily.”
Using sunscreen daily means using it wherever you are, whatever the weather’s doing. “Even sitting by the window or driving in the car going to the store we are exposed. You don’t need to go to Hawaii and lay on the beach. Even on cloudy days 80 percent of the ultraviolet light that damages skin comes through.”
Stevens recommends reapplying sunscreen every two to three hours when outside, and she advocates using a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 if not 30.
OK, so we’ve got our sunscreens ready to go. Now what we want to know from Stevens is what else should be included in optimal skin care regimen.
“Among the most common concerns people associate with aging skin are rough texture, wrinkles and age spots. Rough texture can be due in part to dryness, which can be minimized by using a mild soap or cleanser that is pH balanced, followed by a moisturizer. Stevens also notes that thin, scented lotions do little to enrich the skin and “many fragrances and dyes in those sorts of products can actually increase skin irritation.
“Once the skin is well-hydrated, there are several topical prescription products that can be used to turn back the hands of time,” noted Stevens. “The gold standard ingredient is retinoic acid. It actually does help to build up the collagen under the skin, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and lighten age spots. Over-the-counter ‘cosmeceuticals’ containing active ingredients such as retinol, glycolic acid, lactic acid, and vitamins C and E, to name a few, may also help to give facial skin a more youthful appearance.”
If you are getting the idea that a trip to the dermatologist might be in order, you’re on our wave length. And if you decide to go in to check out the creams, you’ll also be able to learn about other cosmetic procedures like laser treatment, chemical peels, Botox treatment for what Stevens termed “dynamic lines on the upper face, and collagen injections for the deeper furrows on the lower face.”
While all these treatments might smack of more vanity than some wish to pursue, what’s significant is that dermatologists have four years of education after medical school in which they specialize in the care of the skin, hair and nails. Thus, whether people are interested in staving off cancer or dabbling in ways to keep aging skin youthful, a trip into see friendly specialists like Stevens might not be a bad idea. At the very least, Stevens and her colleagues will remind us to be vigilant in getting our sunscreen on and staying out of the UV light.