Sun Protection: A Prevention for Skin Aging and Skin Cancer
People wear their health on their skin. One of the major threats to human skin health is natural sunlight. Premature skin aging and skin cancer are both related to a prolonged history of sun exposure. Skin aging can be divided into two basic processes: intrinsic or programmed aging and photoaging. Intrinsic aging of the skin occurs inevitably as a natural consequence over time. However, photoaging causes premature aging of the skin through cumulative exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun and artificial UV sources.
To best protect your skin from aging and cancer, doctors in skin care recommend a comprehensive sun protective strategy that includes sun avoidance, seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, using sunscreens and appro priate nutrition.
Sun avoidance is a highly effective way to avoid sun-related skin damage. Sun-protective behavior can be promoted through general education and avoidance of midday sun exposure when UV radiation is most intense. This means one should engage in outdoor activities early or late in the day, avoid sunbathing (even with sunscreens) and seek shady, covered areas rather than those exposed to direct sunlight. In addition to this, avoiding artificial tanning is also recommended.
Sun hats, clothing and sunglasses are very important in photoprotection. The World Health Organization (WHO) and several photoprotection associations have recommended protection through fabrics as the first line of defense against solar UV. Textile composition, fiber structure and fabric color are the main factors determining the sun-protection capability of clothing. Studies have confirmed that clothing with a denser fabric structure and dark colors provide better protection against UV radiation. Clothes offering UV protection are usually made of polyester. However, there is some controversy over whether clothes made from an artificial fabric like polyester are more effective than regular (“natural”) clothing for protection against UV. Survey data show that regular clothing may match or even surpass clothes with UV protection in blocking the transmittance of UV radiation. In other words, people do not need to buy special sun-protective clothing that is claimed to block UV radiation.
Sunscreens are another line of defense against UV radiation and protect against UV damage, sunburn, wrinkle formation and pigmentary changes. Sunscreen products are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Any sunscreens with broadspectrum SPF 15 or more can claim that “if used as directed,” they decrease the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging caused by the sun.
There are two types of sunscreens available as options for skin protection. Sunscreens have been divided into organic (chemical) absorbers and inorganic (physical) blockers. The organic compounds absorb high-intensity UV rays and convert them into heat, thus prohibiting their interaction with other molecules in the skin. Inorganic sunscreens (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) protect the skin by scattering UV light.
With sunscreen, habits matter. Parents who regularly apply sunscreen to their children at an early age typically find that their children are more likely to continue this practice in adolescence, giving them an upper hand for their skin.
A poor diet can also affect skin health, increasing people’s vulnerability to melanoma and other skin conditions. A growing body of research on everything from anti-aging strategies to cancer risk suggests that diet might be crucial to skin health. However, the practical details are unclear. The best diet advice for ensuring healthy skin aligns with general guidelines: Eat a varied diet full of fruits, vegetables and other unprocessed food.
Many studies have focused on the goal of keeping skin looking youthful – plump, dewy, firm and unwrinkled. Some human trials support roles for various nutrients in preventing skin aging. These include vitamins, not just C, but also vitamins D and E; carotenoids, such as B-carotene, lutein and lycopene; and plant-based chemicals found in foods that range from soya and turmeric to chocolate and green tea.
The sun’s hazardous effects on skin should be imprinted in our minds; there is no such thing as a healthy suntan, as all tanning is a manifestation of photodamage. People should always keep this in mind and modify their behavior in everyday life to give them the best skin protection and health outcomes for their skin.
Rodrigo Martinez Monedero, MD, Ph.D., is an assistant professor o otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at LSU Health Shreveport.