We all love summer. The warmth of the sun, pleasant weather, and outdoor activities make it a joy to be alive. Most of us have been reminded countless times to get out and enjoy life in the summer months, but we should all also be reminded to protect ourselves from the sun.
The idea of constantly covering up can easily detract from the enjoyment of summer, but what this really means is really quite simple: wear your sunscreen (at least an SPF 30 and ideally with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in it), put on sunglasses, and don’t forget a sun hat to protect the areas that get the most sun exposure over your lifetime—your head, neck, face, and ears. Many clothing outlets are now even offering sun protective garments with built in SPF material. But have you ever wondered Why it’s so important? Or, what the risks of sun damage really are anyway?
Did you know that any tan is actually a sign of sun damage on your skin? While it’s well known that blistering sunburns, especially at a young age, increase your risk of developing skin cancer, many people don’t realize that long term the cumulative sun damage from having a tan (whether from indoor or outdoor UV light exposure) puts you at increased risk for developing skin cancer, too. And, that’s not all it does—sun damage can also lead to many other problems such as signs of premature skin aging, wrinkles, and eye damage.
Solar Lentigines: These flat brown spots are areas of increased pigmentation on the skin and are commonly called age spots or liver spots. They occur most often in areas of sun exposure, such as the face, arms, chest, and upper back. The more time you spend in the sun without protecting your skin, the more solar lentigines you tend to develop and the darker they tend to get. Many patients find these brown spots to be cosmetically bothersome, and they often seek advice on how to minimize them, cover them with makeup, or treat them. Treatments can vary from prescription topicals to chemical peels to lasers and are often pricey as they are not covered by insurance. We strongly encourage prevention by wearing a daily sunscreen especially on the face to help reduce your risk of developing these spots. In addition, as dermatology providers, we watch these spots just like we watch moles, and if they start to rapidly change, darken, grow or become multiple colors, evaluation is recommended to rule out the development of lentigo maligna, a subtype of melanoma skin cancer.
Telangectasias: These superficial blood vessels result in small red or purple clusters or spidery lines on the skin. Sun exposure increases your risk of developing these lesions. Smoking also increases your risk. Once these lesions develop they tend to be permanent unless treated. Treatment options include electro-cautery for small lesions and laser for more wide spread telangectasias.
Solar Elastosis: AKA Wrinkles! It is well documented that sun damage caused by repetitive UV exposure leads to premature aging and an increase in wrinkles in the skin. The UV light from sun exposure breaks down collagen and elastin fibers in the skin resulting in vertical creases, wrinkles, and loose sagging skin. So using a daily sunscreen cannot only help you prevent skin cancer but also help preserve your youthful look! Many companies offer non-comedogenic (not acne producing) sunscreen options with built in moisturizer, such as Cerave, Cetaphil, and Neutrogena. In place of foundation many patients also use a tinted sunscreens available such as Obagi ZO, Revision, and Elta.
Pigmentation Changes: Sun Damage can effect pigmentation of the skin in different ways. Some people will develop uneven pigmentation from their sun exposure over the years. Some pregnant women will develop Melasma, or dark brown pigment changes on the face, from a combination of sun exposure and hormone changes. Poikiloderma describes reddish-brown pigmentation that frequently occurs on the neck and chest of chronically sun exposed skin, especially women.
Eye Damage: Damage from chronic UV light exposure is associated with increased risk of eyelid, conjunctival and intraocular cancers including intraocular melanoma. It is also linked to macular degeneration, a condition that can lead to blindness, as well as keratitis, which is basically sunburn on the cornea. The best way to protect your eyes is by wearing your sunglasses and to go for a routine screening eye examination.
Actinic Keratoses: These spots are often dry, scaly raised patches that just won’t moisturize away or keep coming back. They may be white, pink or brown and occur on sun damaged skin, most frequently on the face, ear, scalp and arms. Some people find them to be tender, raw feeling or briar-like. while others won’t notice them until their practitioner points them out. We typically treat Actinic Keratoses with either liquid nitrogen or topical prescriptions to attempt to prevent them from developing into a skin cancer in the future.
Skin Cancer: Basal Cell Skin Cancer (BCC) is the most common skin cancer followed by Squamous Cell Skin Cancer (SCC). Both BCC and SCC tend to occur most frequently on sun exposed areas such as the face, arms and upper body. Melanoma is the most deadly skin cancer and is one of the fastest growing cancers in young women age 20-35 years old. This increase is thought to be in part due to increased tanning bed habits over the last several decades. Indoor tanning beds tend to emit much more intense ultraviolet radiation than people get from natural sun exposure, and several studies suggest tanning bed use is associated not only with an increased incidence of Basal Cell Skin Cancer but also with a significant increased risk of developing melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer. Melanoma often develops on the legs in women and on the back in men but it can occur anywhere on the body, even between the toes and in other areas that are not exposed to the sun. We strongly encourage a yearly screening skin check for all of our patients.
Don’t be afraid to get outside and enjoy life—just wear your sunscreen and protect yourself as best you can! If you’re concerned about a spot, Southwest Health Dermatology is here to help, call 608-342-5060 today to make your appointment.