The Dark Side of the Sun
Kenneth Sanders, MD
The month of May heralds the spring and, here in the south, eases us into summer. We think of sunny skies, warmer temperatures and activities that take us outdoors. Perhaps this was the reason May was selected as “Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month.” This might not be the best way to celebrate May but it certainly draws attention to the growing number of people who have or will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer. The culprit is over exposure to the sun or, to be more specific, ultraviolet radiation. If this sounds like something from a horror movie, it might as well be.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. UV radiation can also come from tanning booths or sunlamps. The most dangerous kind of skin cancer is called melanoma. According to the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, there are more than 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer diagnosed and 2.2 million people treated for the disease in the U.S. each year. Skin cancer can almost always be cured when it’s found and treated early. Symptoms of skin cancer include:
- Any change on the skin, especially in the size or color of a mole or other darkly pigmented growth or spot, or a new growth.
- Scaling, oozing, bleeding, or change in the appearance of a bump or nodule.
- The spread of pigmentation (color) beyond its border, such as dark coloring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark.
- A change in sensation, itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
It is recommended that you use a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher as one important part of a complete sun protection regimen. Sunscreen alone is not enough, however. To protect yourself, follow these skin cancer prevention tips:
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M.
- Do not burn.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should only be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
Besides the possibility of developing skin cancer, over-exposure to the sun causes photo-aging, the premature aging of the skin caused by repeated exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) primarily from the sun, but also from artificial UV sources. “Photo” is derived the Greek word “phos” which means “light.” So, aging of the skin caused by light.
Aging is unavoidable. Over time, our skin thins and lines and wrinkles appear. Moles, scars, and birthmarks also tend to change as we age. Sun damage over the course of a lifetime worsens the aging skin. Although there are many anti-aging creams on the market, advanced signs of aging and sun damage sometimes require more invasive procedures, including the following:
- An injection of Botox into specific muscles will immobilize those muscles, preventing them from forming wrinkles and furrows as well as softening existing wrinkles.
- Chemical peels are often used to minimize sun-damaged skin, irregular pigment, and superficial scars. The top layer of skin is removed with a chemical application to the skin. By removing the top layer, the skin regenerates, often improving its appearance.
- Soft tissue filler is injected beneath the skin to replace the body’s natural collagen that has been lost. There are multiple different kinds of fillers available. Filler is generally used to treat wrinkles, scars, and facial lines.
- Dermabrasion may be used to minimize small scars, minor skin surface irregularities, surgical scars, and acne scars. Dermabrasion involves removing the top layers of skin with an electrical machine that abrades the skin. As the skin heals from the procedure, the surface appears smoother and fresher.
- A gentler version of dermabrasion, called microdermabrasion, uses small particles passed through a vacuum tube to remove aging skin and stimulate new skin growth. This procedure works best on mild to moderate skin damage and may require several treatments.
- Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy is different from laser therapy in that it delivers multiple wavelengths of light with each pulse (lasers deliver only one wavelength).
- Laser skin resurfacing uses high-energy light to burn away damaged skin. Laser resurfacing may be used to minimize wrinkles and fine scars.
Our Pure Skin Med Spa offers a variety of defenses for sun damage. SkinMedica Total Defense and Repair SPF in tinted, un-tinted and waterproof is an excellent product to start with. Schedule your consultation with us and get ahead of the sun’s damaging rays. If you’ve experienced skin cancer or know someone who has, you’d do just about anything to get rid of it. It is wicked and truly the “dark side” of the sun.