Take a moment to think about your skin. It goes without saying that our skin, our largest organ, is extremely important: it helps to protect our body and internal organs alike, providing a barrier that keeps out germs and other harmful substances. Skin health especially gets a lot of attention during the summer, a season where sunburns become more common and sunny days on the beach are an almost universal goal.
However, while we associate sunny summer days with skin care, your skin actually needs to be protected year-round. While you’re less likely to burn, your winter exposure to the sun’s UV rays can still damage your skin. Just consider this fact: the face, head and neck are where the majority of skin cancers occur! This is because every time your skin has contact with sunlight - no matter what month it is - you are increasing your risk of suffering from sun exposure-related health issues. And this is why good skin care and prevention is so important year round.
The Effects Of Exposure To The Sun’s Rays (And More)
Sunlight can affect our skin in minor and extremely serious ways alike. For example, minimal overexposure to UV light each year can lead to premature aging, which manifests as wrinkles or even leathery skin. In some cases, overexposure to UV light may also cause actinic keratoses, or skin growths that develop on the areas of skin that were exposed to the sun. Both of these minor examples of skin damage can cause unsightly physical symptoms.
Much more seriously, though, actinic keratoses have the potential to become cancerous. And even if your skin has no actinic keratoses, you may be at risk of developing the most well-known effect of overexposure to sunlight: skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and about 86 percent of melanomas are associated with too much exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
Worst of all, any skin damage you suffer from is cumulative. This means that any damage your skin incurs from sunbathing, tanning, or even simply being exposed to sunlight while driving or walking adds up over time, increasing your risk of developing any or all of these issues.
The good news? It’s never too late to work to protect your skin from additional future damage. By taking better care of your skin year-round from now on, you may be able to stave off serious skin problems and minimize the outward effects of aging.
What You Can Do To Care For Your Skin
To take control of their skin’s health, men and women alike should begin adhering to preventative skin care guidelines. Our personal top recommendations for year-round healthier skin are:
- Always apply sunscreen before going outside. Did you know that only 14.3 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women report regularly using sunscreen on both their face and other exposed skin? This is one majority you don’t want to be a part of! Even if you think you won’t be outside long, it’s important to properly apply the right amount of sunscreen on skin that is not covered by clothing. Always use sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, and don’t forget to reapply it every two hours for lasting protection. And this isn’t just a tip for the summer months: UV rays can damage our skin year round. Even Western PA’s cloudy skies won’t stop UV rays from reaching us. Because of this, it’s important to always wear sunscreen, even in the winter.
- Grab your sunglasses. Sunglasses will help protect the skin around your eyes - as well as your eyes themselves! - from sun damage. Of course, that's only if your glasses are designed for that purpose. Rather than going for fashion alone, be sure to find sunglasses with a tag that states they block 99-100 percent of UVA and UVB rays.
- Don’t sunbathe in the summer - and don’t use tanning beds, ever. One of the best ways you can protect your skin from high levels of UV exposure is to avoid sunbathing during the summer. And you’ll want to skip the “pre-tan” session you had planned to get your skin “looking good” as soon as possible, too. Remember, there is no such thing as a healthy tan - and that includes the one you can get in a tanning bed!
- Encourage children to wear sunscreen whenever they leave the house, and talk to teenagers about the dangers of tanning. The skin damage that we accumulate when we are young has a huge impact on the overall health of our skin later on. In fact, the risk of melanoma increases by 75 percent when you use tanning beds before the age of 30. Because of this, it’s important to teach our children about protecting their skin from the sun early in life. The good habits they develop growing up will contribute to a lifetime of healthier skin!
Following these basic skin care guidelines will go a long way in protecting your skin from UV exposure. Men and women of all ages should also do monthly self-checks for any signs of changes on their skin, as well as undergo a professional skin exam annually. If you are unsure how to do perform these checks on yourself, your primary care physician here at Genesis Medical will be happy to help with this or any other issue. Schedule your appointment today to discuss skin care and other important health issues that may be on your mind!