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10 Things To Know About Your Skin Before the Summer Sun Arrives

As the spring sun shines bright, many of us enjoy feeling the warmth of the sun on our skin after the long winter months. But how should we balance the benefits and risks of sun exposure? "It doesn't mean you can't go out," says Dr. Jeri Mendelson of Dermatology & Laser Associates in Medford. "It just means you have to be smart." So before the summer sun leads you outdoors, here are some things to know about your skin.

1. Different rays affect your skin in different ways.

Sunlight is made up of three different lengths of ultraviolet (UV) light. UVB, also known as "the burning ray," is probably known best, says Dr. Elliott Meyerding of LaserDerm, Inc. in Medford. But less well-known are the UVC, the shortest and most intense rays, and UVA, the longest rays. About 95 percent of UVC light is absorbed by the atmosphere, but we are constantly exposed to UVA. "It isn't just the sunshine on sunny days," says Meyerding. "It passes through most of our clothing and car windows and homes." It also reaches us in the shade, on tanning beds and penetrates deepest through our skin's layers. By some experts' accounts, it is considered the real culprit behind wrinkling, leathering, and other sun-damaging effects.

2. Your skin has a past.

There are many factors that will influence your skin's reactions to the sun, including your ethnicity, skin type, genetics, elevation, longitude, and, of course, your past sun exposure. "There is a linear relation between your sun exposure during the first 10 to 20 years of life and your risk of sun damage," explains Mendelson. "It's cumulative damage."

3. Your skin tries to protect itself.

When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it protects itself by increasing the pigment in the cells, giving your skin a darker tone. But the decades-old concept that tanned skin is healthy skin is simply not true, says Meyerding. Tanned skin is only a sign of UV damage. "There really is no safe tan."

4. Your skin has a limit.

Meyerding compares a skin cell's capacity for UV exposure to a meter. "Every cell in our body has a little meter registering every strike of UV rays "¦ and it only moves in one direction." As we age, skin cells that have pigmented to protect themselves lose their ability to "turn off the tan." Often called sunspots, liver spots, or age spots, these dark areas may be a cosmetic concern but are also a warning sign about UV exposure. Some autoimmune disorders and medications also increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun. With increased exposure, skin cells can begin to behave abnormally leading to pre-cancer and cancerous cells. "There is a point of no return," cautions Meyerding.

5. Keep it covered.

The obvious choice for protecting our skin is sunscreen or sun blocks. Both Mendelson and Meyerding recommend a SPF 30 or higher. "A 30 blocks you from 97.8 percent of UVB," says Mendelson. For UVA protection too, they recommend a sunblock containing metal reflectors (like zinc and titanium) or chemical absorbers. Read the label carefully and remember to apply it properly. For many people, says Mendelson, "you won't put it on thick enough for the rating." And don't forget "reapplication is huge," she reminds.

6. Put time on your side.

Along with a habit of sun protection, put your wardrobe to work for you. A wide brimmed hat (4 inches or more) will protect your face, ears and neck. Some clothing lines offer a UV rating already built into them. And be aware of the clock. The most intense UV exposure is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily and peaks between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., says Mendelson.

Plan wisely, make a habit of protecting your skin, and enjoy the sun. Your skin will thank you, especially as you age.

7. Tips for reducing damage.

Retinol A is the only Federal Drug Administration approved, topical, anti-wrinkle cream in the U.S. It smooths small lines and wrinkles. And there are many other creams and preparations usually with alpha hydrox or glycolic components that smooth and soften skin.

Microdermabrasion uses small rough grains to buff away the outer, duller surface layers of skin. Often called an "instant facelift," it freshens skin and can help with small wrinkles or scars.

Peels use preparations to remove a deeper layer of skin cells from the surface of your skin. These vary in intensity and can require a healing period of one to 10 days.

8. Laser Treatments

Laser treatments have mostly replaced topical bleaching to remove or minimize sunspots or hyperpigmented patches of skin. The laser breaks up the melanin (pigmentation) in the spot and the bloodstream carries it away.

When looking for treatment options, always consult a dermatologist or experienced physician to discuss your best options and the benefits and risks. And be consistent with your skin care regime to prevent further damage. "Don't give up," says Dr. Jeri Mendelson, of Dermatology & Laser Associates in Medford. "Look at your lifestyle and be smart."

9. How prevelant is skin canacer?

"Skin cancer is pretty epidemic in this neck of the woods," says Dr. Douglas Naversen, senior partner in Dermatology and Laser Associates of Medford. "We get a lot of transplanted skin cancers in ex-beach boys and beach girls," Naversen says.

10. What is causing an increase in skin cancer?

According to Dr. David Trask, the trend can be traced to a few factors: sun exposure through traditional occupations, such as logging, fishing and farming; an influx of former California residents who soaked up too much sun farther south; the state's growing number of baby boomers, most of whom never wore sunscreen in their youth; and the state's primarily Caucasian population, the group most affected by skin cancer.

10 Things To Know About Your Skin Before the Summer Sun Arrives