Health & Fitness

By Guest Writer: Dr. Craig Austin

With spring just around the corner, most of us in the colder climates are bemoaning our winter-white pallor. But if you’re thinking of a quick trip to the tanning salon for a little glow before baring your skin, I’d encourage you to think again.

UVA and UVB radiation, in any form — whether from the sun or from a tanning bed — will rob your skin of youth and beauty. It will also put you at risk of several cancers, some of which can be deadly.

What Happens in the Sun, Exactly?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation penetrates to the second layer of your skin, causing collagen and elasticity to deteriorate. Collagen weakens normally as you get older, but UV exposure speeds the process — so basically, you’re aging while you’re still young. There’s a myth that tanning beds don’t age the skin, but they do. Each time you’re exposed to UV– whether in the sun or in the salon — your skin gets a little harder and less supple. With time, it will get leathery and darken to a yellow-gray. With lost elasticity, blood vessels dilate, causing blotchiness. And yes, the damage is permanent.

The risk of skin cancers, like squamous cell and basel cell carcinomas, also accumulates every time you’re exposed to UVA or UVB radiation. Malignant melanoma, the lethal form of skin cancer, can develop (among other ways) as a result of only one burn. Melanoma is typically caused by a burn earlier in life, but it usually emerges years later.

Try a Self Tanner
If you want a little color before baring yours skin, go with a self tanner. Self tanners actually start a (safe) chemical reaction in the top layer of skin that will cause it to pigment nicely for a few days. The creams are better than the sprays, as there’s less danger of inhalation.

Protect Yourself and the Next Generation, Too
The best way to keep your skin looking good is to protect it with a broad spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Remember: the SPF rating on sunscreen only measures UVB – so if the label doesn’t say it blocks both, it probably doesn’t. UVA penetrates more deeply and is the one most responsible for premature aging.

Go with a minimum SPF of 30, which blocks 94% of UV rays. I’m a proponent of antioxidants in sun screens as well. These stop sun-related aging by stabilizing free radicals that form with UV exposure. Vitamins C and E, Coenzyme Q, and green tea are particularly good antioxidants. I use them in my own sun-care products, AB Sun and AB Baby. Both are SPF 45, and they’re non-comedogenic, so they won’t block pores. Green tea is also anti-inflammatory, so it will help protect you from burns as well.

Children and women who are pregnant or nursing should use chemical-free, broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 45 or higher. The higher SPF is very important because it compensates for the lack of other chemicals that absorb UV rays. We’ve been getting good reviews on AB Baby, not only for its safety but also for its ease of use. And always keep children under six months away from sun.

Originally published March 2009
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