After months of short winter days, with their freezing winds and snowy streets, we anticipate the warmth of spring, eager to face the strengthening sun. And while it’s natural to seek sunlight at this time of year, we need to do so with appropriate caution.
“Tanning is bad,” says Dr. Richard Moore of The Lifestyle Center unequivocally. “We need 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight a day to produce vitamin D, but beyond that, there’s just no benefit to exposing ourselves to UV rays.” Yet Moore understands the seemingly universal desire to tan during the spring and summer months. “I recommend spray tans,” he says, “especially those administered by a technician who can make sure the spray is even and blended.”
For an at-home solution, Moore says that self-tanning lotions or sprays are effective, but must be applied with care to yield a natural look. “These products contain an ingredient that causes a chemical reaction in the surface layer of the skin, creating the appearance of a tan,” he explains. “The reaction is harmless, but you might notice an unusual odor, which is a byproduct of the chemical changes in the skin.”
Ivy Filson, a licensed esthetician with Dr. Judith Gurley Plastic Surgery in Chesterfield, says self-tanning products used on the face can appear unnatural. She recommends a good bronzer to give the face a sun-kissed appearance. “Tanning beds are even worse than being outside in the sun,” she says. “Claims that tanning beds are healthy are simply false. You don’t need to lie in a tanning bed to get adequate sunlight. We generally get our 15 minutes of sun exposure each day just by getting in and out of our cars or walking in and out of buildings.”
Filson tells her clients to remember that “UVA are aging rays that break down collagen and elastin, creating skin laxity and wrinkles. UVB are burning rays that directly affect the skin’s surface.” A good sunscreen should protect against both types of UV light and should be re-applied at least every two hours spent outdoors, she says.
Reversing the cosmetic effects of existing sun damage, which typically appear as wrinkles and brown pigmentation, is possible with prescription-grade products and procedures, but “being smart about protection is key,” Filson says. Products with retinoids, a derivative of vitamin A, work at the cellular level to stimulate collagen and cell turnover, she explains.
Still, despite our best efforts, “there is no way to reverse the damage done by UV rays,” says Dr. Helen Kim-James of Chesterfield Valley Dermatology. “There are newer ways to treat areas of chronic sun damage for precancer and skin cancer. These require the expertise of a dermatologist and may include prescription creams, office procedures or oral medications.”
Although we may have been sun worshippers in our foolish youth (or even last year), it’s never too late to change our ways, Kim-James says. “While you cannot reverse damage that has been done, it is important to care for your skin at any age,” she says. “Regular self-examinations and examinations by a dermatologist are important to catch precancer and skin cancer early. Sunburns and UV damage incurred as a teen or early adult may not result in cancer until 10 or more years later.”
She adds a final, encouraging note as we enter spring: “We want our patients to enjoy the good weather and outdoor activities, but we want them to take the proper precautions. Making this part of a routine may be difficult at first, but the rewards may truly last a lifetime.”