As a health-conscious person, you want to take care of your skin just as you take care of your heart, muscles, bones, joints and other organs. Daily, you protect your body by exercising, eating right, drinking fluids and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This enhances your skin’s health, too. However, extra steps are helpful to protect the skin, the body’s largest exposed organ, from disease and photoaging.
The sun causes both cancer and photoaging of the skin. By developing a regular routine of preventative skin care at any age, you can reduce your skin cancer risk and reduce the visible effects of the sun’s damage. You even may avoid future cosmetic surgery.
To reduce skin cancer risk, always wear sun block and protective clothing, including a hat with a brim and sunglasses, when you’re outdoors. These habits also keep your skin looking young and healthy.
When the sun’s invisible, ultraviolet radiation hits your skin, the surface cells (epidermis) rapidly divide, forming more cells and thickening this outer layer of the skin. Sunspots, coarse dry texture and fine wrinkling may result in the epidermis. These changes are your body’s attempt to keep this harmful radiation from damaging the deeper layer, the dermis. The dermis contains the collagen and elastin fibers that give your skin its youthful, elastic qualities. Some rays do get through, though, and make these fibers dry and stiff, literally fracturing them. Collagen and elastin act like little rubber bands that give your skin substance and elasticity. When these cells are damaged, facial skin becomes loose and droops, causing deep wrinkles like the nasolabial fold. If creases are deep and skin sags significantly, a face-lift may be needed to correct these changes.
However, most people who see plastic surgeons for help with photoaging do not need face-lifts. Until recently, plastic surgeons could offer little to help men and women with lesser sun damage, such as fine wrinkles or superficial age spots, other than traditional, severe chemical peeling procedures. Now, based on evidence from controlled clinical trials, some plastic surgeons are recommending regular preventative skin care programs to help stop sun damage, re-grow healthy collagen, and fend off more costly, complicated surgeries. It’s preventative healthcare similar to avoiding serious dental problems by brushing daily and having checkups. The daily application of sun block and use of prescription-strength skin care products — along with regular, minor procedures in the doctor’s office — can help prevent further skin damage and stimulate the skin to form new collagen. A physician now may offer:
- Microdermabrasion: This “lunch break facial” uses a highly controlled spray of fine aluminum oxide crystals to painlessly remove dry, dead epidermal cells. May be repeated every few months.
- Glycolic acid peel: This is a lunchtime chemical peel which requires no recovery time. It is a light resurfacing treatment that involves the use of prescription-strength facial wash or cream, usually alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or vitamin C. With this combination, more caustic chemical peels that could cause permanent scarring are not needed.
- Retin-A treatment: This light, skin-refinishing treatment involves regular application of a retinoid-enriched cream which has been shown to stimulate collagen production in the dermis and “plump” the skin. The creams are used in a regular routine of skin care that usually includes cleansers, moisturizers, sunscreens and other agents.
- Pulsed laser resurfacing: In a board-certified doctor’s hands this treatment can remove layers of damaged skin with great efficiency and safety, actually causing the skin to tighten and contract measurably. Laser resurfacing is more expensive than the other minor procedures and downtime is more extensive, requiring 2 to 3 weeks of recovery out of work. Redness and healing may continue for three months.