While I hope you have been wearing your sunscreen all winter long, spring is a great time to remind you just how important sunscreen is. As a plastic surgeon, I have done a lot of skin cancer reconstruction in my practice. While reconstruction can get you great results, I would much rather get to see you for the exciting parts of remaking your life through plastic surgery. The scary parts, like cancer, are much less fun. So put sunscreen on every day. This is especially true for your face. You may not think you are in the sun enough to make facial sun screen all that important. But I disagree!
According to the Centers for Disease Control, statistics updated in 2014 show that Utah has among the highest rates of skin cancer in the nation. Sadly, Utah also has among the highest rates of death from melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. The Utah Cancer Association Network claims that “Utah has one of the two highest rates of skin cancer in the country.”
Why? We don’t know all the reasons. Part of it is Utahan’s healthy outdoor lifestyle. Statistics show that Utah is the 7th least obese state and our high school kids are the 3rd least obese. That’s fantastic news. But we need to do a better job of protecting our skin while we are outside being healthy. A second factor to consider is the population make up of Utah. There are a lot of people here of Northern European descent living in a very sunny, high altitude climate (think pioneers). Our skin is just not prepared to handle those kinds of conditions.
There are both health and beauty reasons to remember your sunscreen. Sun rays damage skin cells. That damage can change the texture and quality of your skin. Radiation increases damage to skin that contributes to wrinkles and dark spots. We have dark spots, called sun or age spots, because our skin cells are essentially damaged. They can no longer regulate their production of melanin and so they overproduce this skin pigment causing a darkening of the skin. Some products remove these dark spots by bleaching the skin from the outside in. Generally, this won’t repair the actual cells so, while the effects may be masked, the damage remains. In our office we sell a skin care line called NIA 24 that is a niacin based skin care regime that repairs skin cells from the inside out.
Continued sun damage can lead to skin cells so damaged that they can no longer regulate their ability to reproduce or replicate. That is what we call skin cancer. Fortunately, not all skin cancer is fatal. Many skin cancers grow and destroy skin and surrounding structures. This type of skin cancer will require removal and probable reconstruction of the skin surface, but those cancer cells rarely spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma is different. Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that can spread to other organs and parts of the body. Melanoma can be fatal.
Do your research. SPF standards are not regulated by the FDA and many claims are not validated by research. There are a few companies that have taken the time and expense to validate their own products. A great over the counter facial sunscreen is Neutrogena Healthy Skin with Helioplex. Neutrogena has gained industry respect for their SPF testing.
Wear facial sun screen every day, not just to the pool, lake, or on a hike. Make it a part of your morning routine. Sometimes facial sunscreen can replace your facial moisturizer and that’s a great way to remember your daily application. If not, use a dedicated sunscreen in addition to your daily moisturizer. The level of sun protection found in makeups and moisturizers is inadequate to truly protect your skin. Consider how thickly you cover your kids in sunscreen when you are at the pool. You would never consider covering your own face with that much makeup. Your sheer level of makeup coverage is not an adequate protective layer.
Healthy skin is beautiful skin. Beautiful skin is a great confidence booster. Take care of yourself and put your best, healthiest, face forward.