Being outside in the summer sun feels good and for the most part, is good for us. Vitamin D is produced in the skin with the help of sunlight and is a vital nutrient for good health. And while a glowing complexion from being in the sun is often thought of as healthy, unprotected sun exposure, especially on the face, head and neck accelerates the aging process and increases your risk of developing skin cancer.
The sun emits UVA and UVB rays, both capable of causing short and long term damage to the skin. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, damaging the middle layer of skin, known as the dermis. The dermis contains the elastic tissue that keeps the skin stretchy. When this layer is damaged, wrinkles form. UVB rays are absorbed by the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis. UVB rays interact with naturally occurring melanin in the skin, causing sunburn, wrinkles, age spots and other discolorations.
While a suntan is thought to make you look youthful and healthy, skin cells are actually being damaged, often leading to uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells, otherwise known as skin cancer. Some abnormal growths may be benign (non-cancerous) but many are found to be malignant (cancerous). Skin cancer is the most common form of all cancers in the United States. The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type and is a slow-growing, pearly or waxy looking bump that can appear on the face, ears or neck. Sometimes it is seen as a flat brown, pink or red lesion occurring anywhere on the body. Basal cell carcinomas are generally easier to treat. Squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common type, is often found to be a firm, red nodule or a scaly, rough non-healing crusty area. Both of these types of cancer can occur anywhere on your body, but often occur on areas frequently exposed to the sun. Common areas include the scalp, ears, lips and neck. These areas are most often neglected when applying sunscreen. Melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer, usually appearing as a darkly pigmented bump or patch of skin that may look like a mole, but has irregular borders, has grown in size, is asymmetrical and may have an uneven color. Moles that were once small and consistent in shape and color but that have started to change should be evaluated for treatment.
Protecting your skin from the damage already caused by the sun can help prevent abnormal cell growth, keeping you looking and feeling healthy. Try to avoid being in the sun during the middle of the day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. since the sun is the strongest at this time. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater, even if you are just going for a walk or watching a sporting event. Sunscreen isn’t just for the boat or the beach! Many facial moisturizers and foundations contain sunscreen; be sure the product is labeled “broad-spectrum” with a rating of 15 or higher. Be sure to apply moisturizer and sunscreen to your ears and neck. And don’t forget your lips! Lips have very little melanin so use a lip balm or color with an SPF of 15 or higher. High gloss lipsticks provide little to no protection of your lips, so if you’re looking to get a shine, apply a color first then top with a glossy lipstick. Remember to cleanse your skin daily and use an exfoliating product to remove dead surface skin cells that can block nutrients in moisturizers from reaching your skin. Using a skincare regimen such as Neocutis will help keep your skin smooth and healthy. Self-tanning products can give the skin a glowing look without the risk associated with sunbathing. Remember, however, the self-tanning products general provide no protection from UV rays.
The board-certified Physicians at Eastern Connecticut Ear, Nose & Throat are trained to evaluate and treat suspicious areas on your head and neck including your ears, lips and scalp. Treatment options are varied, depending on the type of lesion, its size and location. Additionally, our Board Certified Facial Plastic Surgeons provide a variety of rejuvenation procedures including chemical peels, microdermabrasion and laser resurfacing to remove damaged layers of skin and improve uneven pigmentation. Skin rejuvenation with IPL (intense pulsed light) and lasers can be used to minimize redness, brown spots and reduce wrinkles. Wrinkle fillers such as Radiesse® and Juvederm® can be used to help reverse sun exposure related wrinkles, add volume and decrease skin folds. Lips can be augmented with fillers such as Restylane Silk® to help with aging related changes.
Sunlight helps improve our well-being and happiness. Physical activity and exercising outside are good for us, when we take steps to prevent damage from the bad effects of the sun. So, get out there and enjoy the summer sun – just remember to protect your skin to stay healthy!
Dr. William T. Culviner is a Board-Certified Otolaryngologist with a subspecialty in Facial Plastic Surgery at Eastern Connecticut Ear, Nose and Throat, P.C. The practice has three locations, including Norwich, Colchester and Willimantic. To schedule an appointment call 860-886-6610 or visit EasternCTENT.com.