Skin Youth and Health: It’s In Your Sunscreen

Summer means beaches, bathing suits and sun exposure. If you don’t already use it year-round, it’s time to break out the sunscreen. Sunscreen is the No. 1 way to prevent skin cancer, premature wrinkles and age spots. Without it, ultraviolet (UV) rays eventually damage the elastin in our skin, resulting in premature aging.

Even spending time in a tanning booth exposes a person to UV rays, the No. 1 cause for skin cancer. In addition to the health concerns, pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesions, benign tumors, and sun exposure ages skin in a number of ways.

Regardless of age, race or ethnicity, sun exposure causes fine and coarse wrinkles, freckles, mottled pigmentation (discoloration in areas of the skin), sallowness (yellow discoloration), telangiectasia (dilation of small blood vessels underneath the skin), and elastosis (destruction of the elastic tissue causing wrinkles and lines). Put them all together and you’ve added a decade or two to your looks, not to mention the effects on your health.

Several years ago, the national Skin Cancer Foundation developed the Go With Your Own Glow campaign to encourage women (and men) to protect their skin, whatever its natural hue. The campaign encourages sun protection, with emphasis on fashion and beauty trends that show tanning as unflattering, unfashionable and obsolete as a lifestyle.

Cosmetic companies now offer numerous bronzing products and self-tanners that produce a sun-tanned appearance, as well as numerous sunscreen protection products.

Choosing the Right Sunscreen

Sunscreen comes in many different forms and levels of protection. The recommended SPF is at least 30. It’s just as important to look for the words broad-spectrum on the product. This means the product provides protection from the various UV rays that cause damage.

When choosing a sunscreen think about what activities you will be doing and how easy it will be to apply. Sunscreen comes in many different varieties such as gel, cream, lotion, wipes and spray. Some sunscreen products are meant for swimmers and athletes, designed to provide protection in water and while you sweat.

Here is a helpful infographic from the American Academy of Dermatology:

Sunscreens are also tailored to skin types. For example, for sensitive skin, there are hypoallergenic and oil-free products. If you have acne-prone skin, choose a product that doesn’t clog pores. If you have oily skin, choose a mineral-free product. For some individuals, choosing the best sunscreen will be a trial and error process, until they find the best option for protecting their skin.

There are also sunscreens specifically for the face. These products perform double-duty. They not only protect the skin, but have ingredients that work to reverse sun damage at the same time.

Using sunscreen is important to your skin’s health. Whether you want to keep your skin young looking or you want to avoid skin cancer, sunscreen should be your best friend–all year long.

Thomas  Flanigan, MD, FACS, ProMedica Physicians Plastic Surgery, is fellowship-trained in plastic and reconstructive surgery. Click here to read his full contributor profile.