Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Americans spend billions of dollars each year on
"wrinkle" creams, bleaching products to lighten age spots, and skin lotions to
keep skin looking smooth and healthy. But the simplest and cheapest way to keep
your skin healthier and younger looking is to stay out of the sun.
Sunlight is a major cause of skin changes
we think of as aging—changes like wrinkling, looseness, leathery-dryness,
blotchiness, various growths, yellowing, or pebbly texture. Still, one-third of
all adults sunbathe even though they know that sunlight can hurt their skin.
Your skin does change with age, for
example, you sweat less and your skin can take longer to heal. You can delay
these changes by staying out of the sun.
Over time, the sun's ultraviolet (UV)
light hurts the fibers in the skin called elastin. The breakdown of these fibers
causes the skin to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to snap back after
stretching. The skin also bruises and tears more easily and takes longer to
heal. So while sun damage may not show when you're young, it will later in life.
Nothing can completely undo sun damage,
although the skin can sometimes repair itself. So, it's never too late to begin
protecting yourself from the sun.
People who smoke tend to have more
wrinkles than nonsmokers of the same age, complexion, and history of sun
exposure. The reason for this difference is unclear. It may be because smoking
interferes with normal blood flow in the skin.
Sun damage also causes skin cancer.
The chance of developing skin cancer increases as people age, especially for
those who live in sunny areas of the country. There are three types of common
•Basal cell carcinomas are the most
common. They almost never spread to other vital organs, but should be removed
since they will get bigger and can affect areas that are nearby.
•Squamous cell carcinomas are less
common but are potentially more harmful because they can grow quickly and spread
to other organs.
•Malignant melanomas are the most
dangerous of all the skin cancers because they may spread to other organs and
when they do, they are often fatal.
Finding any cancer early and treating it
quickly is important, especially in the case of melanoma. The best defense
against skin cancer is paying attention to the warning signs. If there is a
sudden change in the look of a mole or a new spot, see a doctor. Look for
differences in color, size, shape, or surface quality (scaliness, oozing,
crusting, or bleeding). Have a doctor check any dark colored spots.
Dry Skin and Itching
Dry skin is common in later life.
About 85% of older people develop "winter itch," because overheated indoor air
is dry. The loss of sweat and oil glands as we age may also worsen dry skin.
Anything that further dries the skin (such as overuse of soaps, antiperspirants,
perfumes, or hot baths) will make the problem worse. Dry skin itches because it
is irritated easily. If your skin is very dry and itchy, see a doctor because
this condition can affect your sleep, cause irritability, or be a symptom of a
disease. For example, diabetes and kidney disease can cause itching. Some
medicines make the itchiness worse.
Maintaining Healthy Skin
The best way to keep skin healthy is
to avoid sun exposure beginning early in life. Here are some other tips:
•Do not sunbathe or visit tanning
parlors and try to stay out of the sun between 10 am and 3 pm
•If you are in the sun between 10 am
and 3 pm always wear protective clothing—such as a hat, long-sleeved
shirt, and sunglasses.
sunscreen lotion before going out in the sun to help protect your skin from UV
light. Remember to reapply the lotion as needed. Always use products that are
SPF (sun protection factor) 15 or higher.
•Check your skin often for signs of
skin cancer. If there are changes that worry you, call the doctor right away.
The American Academy of Dermatology suggests that older, fair-skinned people
have a yearly skin check by a doctor as part of a regular physical check-up.
•Relieve dry skin problems by using
a humidifier at home, bathing with soap less often, and using a moisturizing
lotion. If this doesn't work, see your doctor.