One of our favorite times of year is upon us, and with that comes extended time spent outdoors—BBQs, beach days, and lots of outdoor activities fill our days. A little vitamin D and a summery glow always make people feel better than they do in those dark, winter months.
Beautiful, warm weather may help uplift our mood, but sun exposure is not forgiving on our skin for many reasons, including premature aging and skin cancer. That’s why sun protection is key to any time spent outdoors; it doesn’t have to be 90 degrees and blazing hot to get a burn.
“There are a lot of concerns people have when it comes to sun exposure,” explains Dr. B. Aviva Preminger, a renowned plastic surgeon located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
According to Dr. Preminger, the sunburn is just the initial heat. What’s actually happening underneath is the sun can cause changes in a person’s DNA, and that damage can increase the long-term risk for all sorts of skin cancers. “Some of that is a genetic predisposition, and some of it’s just because of the damage done to the DNA from the sun,” says Dr. Preminger.
Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. Approximately 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the United States, and these numbers continue to increase. That’s why it’s important to implement preventative measures into our skin care routine on a daily basis.
We sat down with Dr. Preminger to find out some of the most effective ways to help protect ourselves while enjoying the outdoors, along with latest treatments available to help repair and reverse sun damage.
In what ways besides a burn can sun exposure cause visible damage to the skin?
What you hear about is basic sunburns and skin cancer, but there are other effects in terms of how the skin ages. One of them is hyper-pigmentation, also known as dyschromia. As people age, you’ll notice brown spots and ultraviolet radiation causes changes in the DNA that can lead to all sorts of premature aging, hyper-pigmentation being one of them. When there is a general breakdown of the elasticity of the skin, is it starts to become wrinkled. It’s important to know that sun exposure really does cause premature aging.
What kind of treatments do you recommend to patients hoping to help repair and reverse the damage?
From a cosmetic perspective there is a lot we can do. For dyschromia, which are those brown spots, I use something called an IPL laser, which is intense pulse light therapy. It targets the brown spots, and they become darker and then flake off.
For fine lines and general skin resurfacing, I will use a fractionated CO2 laser. I have the Deka laser in my office, which takes off the top later of the skin, rejuvenates it, and improves fine lines, pigmentation irregularities, and skin texture.
One of the new fillers, the RHA2, is really good at filling in fine lines, so I will use that to help out as well. But when the wrinkles really become a problem and the skin elasticity is bad, that’s when patients should consider a facelift.
Can these procedures be done year-round?
These procedures can be done during the summer as long as patients are careful about wearing sun protection. After any skin intervention you must be careful not to go right back out into the sun because the skin is vulnerable.
One area that sometimes gets neglected is the decollete. Can these treatments be used on the neck and chest area as well?
Yes, and a lot of these lasers can be used on the arms and shoulders too. There’s also a product I really like by Skinbetter that is helpful for the face and neck. It’s an even-tone correcting serum that’s used daily and can help with pigmentation.
Is there a point when it becomes too late to reverse sun damage?
It’s never too late, but it does become more challenging. The further you let things go, like anything else, the worse they tend to get. Sun damage has a similar effect on the skin that smoking has—it prematurely ages you.
A perfect example of end-stage sun exposure is someone like the character from the movie, “There’s Something About Mary,” or the actor George Hamilton. While it’s never too late to intervene, I do think some people need an intervention because they keep doing this to themselves. They think it looks good or healthy because they have a tan, but this is when you want to talk to them about some sort of artificial tan. If they feel they need to continue to look like they’ve been in the sun, there are much safer ways to achieve that.
What areas should people pay a little extra attention to even when the sun isn’t at its strongest?
Particular areas that are vulnerable on the face are the nose, lips, and ears. They are unforgiving areas when it comes to getting skin cancer. Especially when applying sunblock, these are all areas to think about.
A significant predictor for skin cancer is a sunburn at a young age. That’s why it’s important for parents to put sunblock on their kids as well as themselves. Ideally, sunblock should be re-applied every two hours.
What else can we do on a daily basis?
A hat is always helpful especially when sitting at the beach. People underestimate the value of sunglasses too. When we talk about the areas that age most quickly, the eyes and neck are always the first to go, because they are the thinnest skin. Wearing sunglasses with UV protection can be helpful; you don’t want to end up with skin cancer on the eyelid. It’s another sensitive area that is really not forgiving.
I also recommend using a tinted moisturizer in the winter that has an SPF in it. I really like the one by Revision Skincare; it has SPF 45 and works really well. Using it on a daily basis is another helpful way to prevent skin cancer.
It’s wonderful that we have all of these modalities, but I think there is nothing better than prevention. And for people who have had work done, it’s equally important to maintain their investment in themselves and be diligent about sunblock.
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