There are two sets of factors that
determine the health and appearance of your skin. The first one
– genetics – is a factor that you have little control
over. You did not get to pick your parents. But genetics accounts
for only about 40% of the condition of your skin.
How well you care for your skin is
the second factor. It is overwhelmingly the most important determinant
of your skin’s long-term appearance and health. Good skin
care and prevention is responsible for 60% of the condition of your
for Your Skin
When thinking about how to care for
your skin, it is important to remember that it is the largest organ
of the body. The appearance of your skin mirrors your overall general
health. And all of the same factors that harm your health –
smoking, too much alcohol or caffeine, poor diet, stress and not
enough exercise or sleep - also rapidly age a person’s skin.
Unlike the rest of your organs, however,
your skin also faces another threat. Every time it is exposed to
the sun, your skin is damaged. Medical research has shown that the
risk of skin cancer substantially increases each time an individual
Sun damage also accumulates over time.
In many ways, your skin is like a car’s odometer that records
and reflects all of the sun damage you have accrued over a lifetime.
Protecting your skin from the sun is an integral part of caring
for it. We, at North Dallas Dermatology Associates, recommend that
our patients follow four simple rules:
#1. Stay out of the sun and the tanning booth
There is no such thing as a safe tan.
Any amount of tanning or sun exposure damages the skin. So when
you are outdoors, seek shade. This is particularly important during
those times of the day when the sun is strongest (between 10 a.m.
and 4 p.m.) – especially if you cannot see your shadow or
if it is shorter than you.
There is also a common myth that claims
an individual can protect their skin by getting a “base tan”
before going to the beach. In reality getting a base tan is analogous
to partially damaging your skin before really hurting it.
The sun produces two wavelengths of
light that damage the skin – ultraviolet A and B. Most outdoor
light is UVB, a shorter wavelength that mostly damages the outer
layers of your skin. Most non-melanoma skin cancers are due to UVB
Tanning booths are exceptionally bad
for your skin because they produce mostly UVA light. UVA is a longer
wavelength that penetrates deeper into the skin, causing much more
damage that usually appears later in life in the form of wrinkles
and sun damaged skin. More importantly, there is new research that
suggests that melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, is
primarily linked to the UVA wavelength. Even more reason to stay
out of the tanning booth!
#2. Always wear sunscreen
While you should try to stay out of
the sun as much as possible, it is impossible to completely avoid
going outside. Even in the shade your skin is exposed to reflected
sunlight, and it is also absorbed through car windows. So the second
essential part of caring for your skin is to protect it at all times
by wearing sunscreen and not just when you are going outside for
an extended period of time. Putting on sunscreen should be as much
a part of a person’s daily routine as combing hair and brushing
It is important to remember that sunscreen
reduces but does not prevent sun damage. You can still get sun even
with sunscreen on! For example, a SPF 30 sunscreen allows you to
stay in the sun thirty times longer than you would without sunscreen
before burning. So wearing sunscreen does not completely protect
the skin from the sun, but it does help to substantially reduce
the level of damage.
When selecting a sunscreen, it is important
to look for one that provides “broad spectrum” protection.
This means that it protects the skin from both UVA and UVB wavelengths.
We also recommend that our patients use a moisturizer that includes
sun protection with at least a SPF 15 as part of their daily skin
care routine. For outdoor activity, we recommend a sunscreen with
SPF 45 or greater and one that is waterproof for sports.
Two common mistakes that people make
are not using enough sunscreen to provide adequate protection and
failing to reapply it frequently enough throughout the day. If you
are going to be outside all day, you will need to reapply it about
every two to three hours.
Rule #3. Wear protective clothing
Another integral part of caring for
your skin is to wear sun protective clothing, in particular when
you go outdoors. We recommend that patients wear sunglasses, lip
protection and a hat with a brim that is at least 7.5 cm. It is
also essential that any clothing worn in the sun be tightly woven
and dark in color in order to block the sun’s rays.
For example, a common misconception
is that a T-shirt protects your skin from the sun. A white T-shirt
only offers an SPF equivalent of about 4 to 6. If the shirt gets
wet, it is even less than that. Darker colored clothing typically
provides an SPF of about 8 and a denim shirt is about a 12. To truly
protect your skin when wearing a t-shirt, it is a good idea to wear
sunscreen under your clothing.
Another option is to wear clothing that is designed to provide high levels of protection from the sun. Two companies Coolibar and Solumbra have designed various lines of clothing with a SPF of at least 30 or greater. (See www.coolibar.com or www.sunprecautions.com)
#4. Protect your children
Sun damage is cumulative and the majority
of sun damage occurs early in life. One study showed that about
80% of the sun damage to a person’s skin typically occurs
by the age of 18.
Thus, it is critical that parents take
an active role in protecting their children’s skin. They must
make sure that younger children always wear sunscreen and stay out
of the sun as much as possible. They also should dress them with
protective clothing (including a hat) when they are outdoors and
keep them out of the sun during the middle of the day.
As children get older, parents should
educate them about the importance of skin care and the long-term
consequences of sun exposure. While it is impossible to completely
prevent sun damage, the more that is done to protect an individual’s
skin at an early age, the healthier it will be for the rest of their