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 sunís
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 youíre young, it will later in life.
Nothing can completely
undo sun damage, although the skin can sometimes repair itself. So, itís
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 skin cancers:
- 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 percent 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.
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 a.m.
and 3 p.m.
- If you are in the
sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. always wear protective clothing--such
as a hat, long-sleeved shirt, and sunglasses.
- Put on 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 doesnít work, see your doctor.
For more information
about skin, contact:
of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) Clearinghouse
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892-3675 301-495-4484
National Cancer Institute
9000 Rockville Pike
Building 31, Room 10A24
Bethesda, MD 20892
The American Academy
of Dermatology (AAD)
930 North Meacham Road
Schaumburg, IL 606173-4965
The Skin Cancer Foundation
245 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2402
New York, NY 10016