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An ounce of prevention
The ins and outs of reversing sun damage


August 2016

When the sun comes out in Milwaukee, we flock to the beach and beer gardens. And no wonder! With our city averaging 275 overcast days a year, the sun is a relatively rare guest. And soaking it up feels good ó as it should. According to Dr. Eric Marsh, medical director of Ascend Dermatology, the ultraviolet (UV) rays found in sunlight release endorphins in the brain.

What is sun damage?

But sun exposure does not come without cost. According to Marsh, "Sun damage is the long-term effect of ultraviolet radiation on the skin. If you live on earth, youíre going to get sun damage, and the longer we live, the more damage we will accumulate." And thatís true even in northern climates. "One out of five people in North America develop skin cancer ó thatís 20 percent," adds Marsh.

And staying out of the sun might not be enough. Dr. Erik Alexander of Forefront Dermatology says that skin damage comes from anything that provides UV rays, including tanning beds and UV nail treatments. "Pretty much anything negatively that happens to your skin can be blamed on UV light exposure ó brown spots, pigment changes, fine lines and wrinkles, and an aged appearance," he says.

What are the signs of sun damage?

Over a lifetime, everyone will get some sun damage. Because weíre all at risk, we need to examine our skin for changes. Alexander recommends paying attention to "new or existing growths that are changing, things that are becoming itchy, bleeding or painful." This is especially true for people at high risk for skin cancer. According to Marsh, those include "people with a family history of skin cancer, many moles, or whoíve had a couple of blistering sunburns."

How can we prevent sun damage?

No matter what age we are, itís never too late to protect ourselves from the sun. Both physicians offer practical advice: Stay in the shade, cover up exposed areas and apply sunscreen. Alexander has a quick test for avoiding midday sun: "If your shadow is shorter than you are, you donít want to be out in the sun."

Lately, the news has been filled with reports of sunscreen not measuring up to its claims. Thatís partly because people donít use enough of it. In terms of when and how much sunscreen to use, we might follow Benjamin Franklinís advice: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Both doctors recommend applying a shot glass full of sunscreen (1.5 ounces) at regular intervals throughout the day.

How can we treat sun damage?

Cher sings about turning back time, but Alexander cautions, "Like a lot of things in life, UV skin damage cannot be fully reversed." Still, both doctors speak to multiple treatment options. According to Alexander, the treatment "with the most science behind it is a topical retinoid. Over the counter, it has a low dose of retinol and will decrease fine lines and wrinkles, help firm the skin, and lighten darker spots. You can also get prescription-strength creams that work a bit better."

Marsh says that a number of treatments, such as photodynamic therapy and chemical peels, work deeper on the skin to strip away small layers of sun-damaged skin and promote the skin to renew itself. These are available only at a medical office. M

What to look for in a sunscreen

+ SPF 30 or higher

+ Broad spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB light)

+ Water resistant

+ Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide



This story ran in the August 2016 issue of: