Written by Dr. William A. Carter
Well, get ready. We might have gotten off to shaky start, but there is no doubt that the heat and sun are going to be around for awhile. It’s the time of year when we all start to wonder: What’s the big deal about the sun and photo aging of the skin anyway? Isn’t the sun necessary for health? How is a person supposed to get vitamin D, for goodness sake? And what about the beneficial mood effect of sunlight? Are we all supposed to go around perpetually depressed?
Hold on there, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Yes, the sun is necessary for life on our planet, and there is no doubt it accomplishes a great deal of good for a lot of plants and animals. But it is just terrible for human skin, and not required for optimum health. The problem is UV light. UV light is subcategorized based upon wavelength.
UVA is the predominant wavelength that causes genetic damage in the skin which results in 3 or 4 varieties of skin cancer, brown spots, and loss of dermal thickness, elasticity, strength, and overall skin health. UVA also causes darkening of skin, which we call tanning. By the time we can observe tanning, genetic damage and photo aging has already occurred. UVB is the main UV wavelength to cause burning of the skin; this subset of UV light can make us uncomfortable but causes much less long-term skin damage and less photo aging and skin cancer. There is also UVC light, but that’s another discussion. Let’s stick to the basics.
First, try to avoid the sun. Like my talented aesthetician Michelle likes to say, “If you can see with your eyes, UV rays can see you.” Take home message: Unless it is pitch black outside, you are getting SOME UV light exposure. Try to minimize it. Encase yourself in plastic, which stops UVA, or use a physical sunscreen. I say “physical” because this variety of sunscreen has advantages over the more commonly used and widely available chemical sunscreens. The ones containing inc and/or titanium are physical, and all the others are chemical. Physical sunscreens reflect UV of all subtypes off the skin before there is actual exposure of the skin to the UV. Chemical screens are less expensive to manufacture, are changed in composition when UV hits them, are absorbed into the skin, and get used up as the UV interacts with them. They cost less and can easily be found in all pharmacies, and most consumer goods stores. The physical sunscreens can generally only be readily found in an aesthetic physician’s office, med-spas, a dermatologist’s office, or a plastic surgeon’s office. They cost a bit more, but a little goes a long way, and they perform a great deal better and with greater overall safety.
So let’s say you have done your very best to stay away from UVB, and especially UVA light over the summer, but you still incurred some damage. What can be done to repair, and to restore your skin? First of all, most of us will need a good topical skin program containing a retinoid (retinol or tretinoin), antioxidants, and DNA repair agents. Adequate amounts of these components cannot be found off the shelf or in department store products. They can only be found in a physician’s office where aesthetic services are provided. Other ingredients that will be needed for some people are skin pigment lighteners, and moisturizers.
Next on the list of restorative approaches to recover from UV summer damage are treatments such as IPL, micro needling, non-ablative and ablative fractional laser use, and photodynamic therapy (PDT). There are other tools and techniques that can be used as individual needs arise. Every situation is a bit different. Consultations for skin rejuvenation in most offices, including ours, are complementary. Call to have your own face and skin evaluated, and get back on track to become your very best looking and healthiest self.