Many of us in Arizona are fairly educated on the dangers of sunlight and ultraviolet radiation. Hopefully, you see a dermatologist to conduct yearly “spot checks” to make sure there aren’t any moles or spots that could be cancerous.

A new study from Binghamton University in New York has found the mechanism through which UV radiation from the sun damages skin. The study sought to answer what kind of UV radiation is the worst on skin and how the sun’s rays damage skin. 

What is ultraviolet (UV) radiation?

We can’t see UV rays, but previous studies showed that all UV radiation penetrates different depths of the skin and prolonged exposure can lead to cancer. But few studies examined how UV rays damage skin. Is UVA radiation the worst or is UVB the worst kind that causes wrinkles and increases the fragility of skin tissue?

The Binghamton study found that all ultraviolet radiation types cause just as much damage as the others, but damage is multiplied by exposure time. But they also sought to find out how UV light damages skin. Researchers found that UV radiation weakens the bond between cells in the top skin layer by attacking the protein that helps cells stick together. The clearest example of this is how the skin peels when you get a sunburn.

Researchers are continuing to study how ultraviolet affects deeper layers of skin, but say the first study’s biggest takeaway is that skin protection is vital no matter how hot it is outside. 

Is indoor tanning safe?

In a word: No. Studies have already linked indoor tanning to an increased risk of a common skin cancer called cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). But a recent study published in JAMA Dermatology explored how the frequency and duration of indoor tanning affected the risk of SCC. 

Not surprisingly, the study showed that women who used indoor tanning more frequently and for longer periods increased their risk of SCC, even when considering other factors such as the number of sunburns the women had and vacations they took including sunbathing.

No ‘Healthy Tan’

Remember when people thought they looked healthier when they were tan? We even used the phrase “It’s a healthy tan.” Now we know that there is no such thing as a “healthy tan.” Tanning is skin damage that leads to premature aging of the skin, wrinkles and brown spots, also called sunspots, not to mention skin cancer.

The most common skin cancers are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, according to the Carl T. Hayden VAMC Dermatology Clinic at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. Both cancers grow slowly, over years, and while they are not normally life threatening, they should be removed.

Melanoma is the skin cancer that can spread and lead to death. Early detection is the key to preventing too much damage or death, but prevention is best. This type of skin cancer is all too common in Arizona and particularly in the Sonoran Desert, where we live, according to the Hayden Clinic.

Checking for sun damage

The most common signs of skin damage from sun exposure are:

  • sunburns, from mild to blistering; 
  • actinic keratoses, which are scaly, rough skin patches that look like warts usually on the face, scalp, ears, neck, arms and hands;
  • actinic cheilitis, a form of actinic keratosis on the lips;
  • age spots, large freckles that are also called liver spots, lentigines or sunspots—especially if they change in size or color;
  • moles that change in size, color or texture or if they start bleeding;
  • rosacea, reddening of the skin that usually fluctuates, but can become more lasting;
  • wrinkles such as laugh lines or crows feet;

Combatting skin damage

What can you do about skin damage caused by the sun? Dr. Mikel Lo at About Faces Cosmetic Surgery can recommend the right procedure for you, depending on what the damage is.

Laser skin resurfacing is highly effectiving in softening wrinkles and pigmentation issues around the chin. This is done by using light pulses to remove thin layers of damaged skin, which also stimulates collagen production underneath the skin to plump and tighten the skin. New skin will grow over the treated area in about a week’s time.

At About Faces Cosmetic Surgery, the leading treatment for the three most common types of skin cancer—basal cell, squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma—is surgery to remove the cancer, which is 99% effective in treating it and reducing the risk of recurrence. With Mohs or frozen section surgery on the nose, a small amount of tissue is removed one layer at a time until the tissue is free of cancer. Depending on the size of the cancer, surgery can take a few hours, but there’s usually only minimal wound care afterward until the skin heals.

Microneedling is a minimally invasive procedure that has no downtime and promotes collagen production to rejuvenate damaged skin. It can reduce fine lines and wrinkles caused by sun damage.

Injections of Botox®, Dysport® or Xeomin® relax muscles to reduce wrinkles caused by sun damage. These are usually used around the eyes, on the forehead and between the eyebrows. Dr. Lo is experienced also in injections to the lower face, lips and chin. 

Hydrafacial treatments, which as the name implies uses water to exfoliate the skin, leaving the skin hydrated, plump and more youthful looking. Multiple hydrafacial treatments can reduce wrinkles and reduce mild pigmentation.

If the sun has damaged your skin, or if any other of our non-surgical and surgical cosmetic procedures interest you, schedule a consultation today with Dr. Mikel Lo and his talented, professional  staff, including 2 trained nurse injectors, at About Faces Cosmetic Surgery. Contact us today!

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