To understand how to properly care for your skin during the peak sunlight season, we first have to understand the skin, its function and properties, and also the products we employ to protect and nourish the largest organ of our bodies. Summer skin health is so important in order to maintain vibrant skin throughout the year.
Let’s begin with the function and structure of our skin. There are nine essential jobs our skin does for the body:
- Protects us from physical, chemical, biologic, thermal and electrical damage.
- Helps the body maintain a steady temperature
- Acts as a moisture regulator
- Prevents excessive loss of minerals
- Converts UV rays into Vitamin D3 which is essential for the bones to absorb calcium, making them stronger.
- Is our most sensitive of sensory organs helping us to respond to heat, cold, pain, pleasure and pressure.
- Metabolizes and stores fat.
- Secretes sebum, an oily lubricating substance.
- Excretes salt, urea, water, and toxins via sweating.
Just as the skin transmits information from the outside world to our inside world or nervous system, the skin also reflects information outward from our inside world. Chemical changes in the body can be seen in one or more of the three layers of tissue that comprise our 17 square foot organ.
The epidermis is the outermost layer and the thinnest. There are no blood vessels in this layer but there is a multitude of tiny nerve endings. This is where we show the world our genetic predispositions and our lifestyle habits. Wrinkles, laugh lines, breakouts, freckles, and age spots are commonly found here. It is made up of primarily keratin proteins the same as our nails and hair, which acts as a water and chemical protective barrier from the outside world. Our melanocytes regulate the pigment of our skin in this layer as well.
The dermis is the next deepest layer. Here we find networks of blood vessels. This is where our rosy cheeks come from, a sign of good blood flow and therefore vitality! The major components of the dermis are collagen and elastin which make for resilient and strong skin. This is the same connective tissue that also keeps our organs in place.
As we age, elastin weakens and collagen production slows down. As our skin — curtain to the outside world — begins to thin, signs of stress are more easily seen. These include environmental damages caused by lifestyle habits such as sun exposure, smoking, lack of hydration and air pollutants. It also includes emotional stress as strong emotions can create chemical changes within the body.
The deepest layer of skin is the subcutis layer. Here we find stored fats that act as shock absorbers and insulators for our organs and deeper vessels. A maze of blood vessels and lymphatic tissue run through to make this area of skin a vital storage site for long-term energy reserves. As we age this layer grows thinner and can leave behind unsupported and sagging skin.
Now that we are familiar with exactly what our skin does and needs to perform its job well let’s see how we can best protect and nourish it. As summer rolls in the longer hours of sun exposure, we should be protecting ourselves daily. For those of us who are active in the outdoors, this includes choosing a proper sunscreen, utilizing efficient sun protection such as hats, long sleeve shirts and pants, and avoiding the most potent hours of sun exposure from 10am till 4pm.
SPF, standing for sun protective factor, is how a sunscreen is gauged. The higher the number the longer it takes for your skin to burn with that cream on. A minimum of 15 is required for the product to provide a decreased risk of skin cancer and prevent early aging of the skin. Anything above a 50 is only incrementally stronger in protection.
What is more pertinent is the proper application of these creams. Use on any area that will be exposed to sun 30 minutes before heading outdoors and reapply every 2 hours thereafter. Sunscreen must be reapplied immediately following a dip in the pool or any other water drenching fun. Claims of waterproof sunscreen are not valid. Always reapply sunscreen throughout the day as even sweat is enough to weaken the layer of protection. Indeed, most people still get sunburnt while using sunscreen for this one very common reason.
So which kind of sunscreen should you choose? There are organic and inorganic sunscreens used to block different rays. An organic sunscreen will absorb UV radiation and convert it into a small amount of heat. An inorganic sunscreen will reflect and scatter UV rays. Products containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are amongst this category and are preferred for use on sensitive skin areas such as the face.
Have you ever seen photos of professional surfers with their completely creamed white noses and cheeks?
These guys are using inorganic sunscreens the right way. For those of us who want to hang out poolside or join some friends around a barbeque, an opaque sunscreen isn’t ideal. Manufacturers then took to shrinking the particle size of these materials so the translucent aesthetic would be more appealing while still containing the valuable substances that reflect away sun damage. Scientific critics have disputed the efficacy of these newer Nano-particle sunscreens claiming that the reduction in size actually causes the sunscreen to direct UV radiation directly deeper into the skin rather than away.
A safe bet to purchase is a broad spectrum sunscreen that both reflects and absorbs UV rays. These broad spectrum creams work to prevent damage from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate the skin deeper than do UVB rays. They are also far more prevalent than UVB rays being present in our skies for all hours of the day and throughout the year. UVB rays are generally more common during peak sunshine hours and from the months of April to October. UVB rays cause more of the sudden and severe sunburn while UVA rays cause sun damage over time. Both can cause DNA damage, which precludes skin cancer.
So now we have found the perfect protective sunscreen, we have applied and reapplied as efficiently as possible and we are using our common sun-sense with appropriate clothing and avoiding peak sun hours. We get home after a long day of A+ sun behavior and there is still dryness, redness, or flakiness that has occurred. It is now time to switch from defense to offense. Stay happy and healthy, and pay attention to your summer skin health!