Effects of Sun on the Skin

October 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Skin Care

Whenever unprotected (read: naked and devoid of sunblock) skin is exposed to the sun, an insidious cycle of damage is ini­tiated almost immediately. The two ultraviolet rays that are found in sunlight, UVB and UVA, deliver their blows in dif­ferent ways. The first, UVB, is often called the “burning” ray because of its power to do just that—burn. (Anyone who has ever dealt with a painful sunburn can thank good old UVB.) The other, the UVA ray, doesn’t burn the skin; but because of its longer wavelength, it is able to reach deeper into the skin, down to the cellular level, where our DNA resides. Combined, the two activate the free-radical damage that we now know is largely to blame for the majority of skin aging, not to mention a host of other diseases, like skin cancer.

Living in Miami, the sunbathing capital of America, has pro­vided me with ample examples, both in the office and outside it, of why we must limit the time we spend in the sun. Notice that I don’t say “eliminate,” because even I realize that people genuinely enjoy being in the sun. With that in mind, before dispensing advice about protection from the sun, I first try to ascertain my patients’ lifestyle and the reasons why they’re in the sun. If, for example, patients tell me that they love to golf, or that they regularly take their children to the playground, then we try to work around those outings. Believe it or not, staying away from the sun during the peak burning hours—11 a.m. to 4 p.m.—makes a significant difference in how much you damage your skin. I’m proud to say that I’ve been able to trans­form many of my patients with just this guideline. After all, life is too short to give up the things that truly fill us with joy.

This next piece of advice is almost simplistic, but since I am constantly given a multitude of excuses for being sun­burned, I think it bears repeating. First, everyone needs to consider sunblock as vital as toothpaste and as indispensable as those pricey antiaging creams. No sunblock will offer you complete protection from the sun—you’d need to go outside covered with a metal cage to accomplish that—but the options today are so wonderfully diverse that it’s truly inexcus­able not to use one. In fact, the current crop of sunscreens is light-years ahead of its predecessors.

Until only a few years ago, traditional sunscreens only offered protection from UVB rays, partially because the non-burning UVA rays were, incorrectly, considered harmless. (Actually, one could get sunblocks that offered additional pro­tection from UVA, but they were thick and opaque and very unpleasant to wear.) All that changed in the early 1990s when two major developments took place.

First, a process called micronization allowed makers of sunblocks to pulverize the traditionally thick, occlusive but very effective zinc oxide and titanium dioxide into fine parti­cles that, when rubbed onto the skin, became nearly invisible. Finally, this allowed everyone, not just the lifeguards for whom this thick white stripe was a signature, to fully protect himself or herself from the sun in an appealing way. The other major turning point was the introduction of Parsol 1789, a chemical sunblock that is also known as avobenzone. (Until then, avobenzone was available only in Europe.) Avobenzone is an effective UVA blocker and it is now included in many sunblocks, in the process finally offering complete protection from both wavelengths of light. Today, pretty much every brand delivers this broad-spectrum protection


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