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Protect your skin for your health and looks

Guest Columnist: Eduardo Ortiz, MD4

This week’s article was written by Eduardo Ortiz, a fourth year medical student at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSOM). Eduardo majored in Biology and minored in Art History at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. As president of the Dermatology Interest group, he helped organize a free skin cancer screening with local dermatologists earlier this year.

This column is a monthly feature of “Health & Exercise Forum” in association with the students and faculty of Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.

Skin Cancer

Despite the fact that we have limited exposure to sunny days in NEPA (50%), skin cancer still exists in large numbers. Skin cancer is the most common cause of cancer in the United States. While there are several types of skin cancer and not necessarily all are deadly, procedures to remove these skin cancers are both costly and frequently result in unsightly scars. The most dangerous type of skin cancer, called melanoma, results in an estimated 10,000 deaths per year. The good news? Nearly all skin cancers are preventable!

UV rays

The majority of skin cancers are caused by harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Two major types are UVA and UVB:
• UVA rays account for the majority of UV rays in sunlight (about 95%) and penetrate deep into the skin causing continual damage throughout our lives – a process called ‘photo-aging’ that results in wrinkles, sunspots, and uneven texture. UVA can also damage skin at a microscopic level, which may contribute to the development of skin cancers.
• UVB rays, while they do not penetrate as deeply, are what cause sunburns when we spend too much time under the sun. UVB rays are primarily responsible for the development of skin cancers.

Aging

In the field of anti-aging, advertisers make lofty promises for many products that claim to contain or boost collagen. Whether or not these work is a whole other discussion, but what is collagen and what does it have to do with wrinkles?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. It is found in nearly all tissues and organs, and plays a crucial role in maintaining structural integrity. Unfortunately, collagen production naturally decreases with age. This causes many of the findings we associate with older age, such as sagging skin and wrinkles, as well as joint pain. Collagen also works together with another important protein called elastin, which helps to maintain elasticity – a feature commonly associated with youthful skin.

When exposed to UV rays, these proteins can become damaged. For instance, studies have shown that skin exposed to UV rays increases the expression of proteins called matrix metalloproteinases, or MMPs. You can think of these MMPs as collagen’s enemy, as they cause their degradation. This results in a decrease in collagen’s structural function leading to loose and wrinkled skin. UV rays can also stimulate the production of reactive oxygen species. These are substances such as hydrogen peroxide and bleach, which further cause destruction of skin’s microscopic structure.

Sunscreen Tips & Tricks

So, you’re convinced and have decided to keep your skin healthy and youthful – what next? With so many different products on the market, choosing a daily sunscreen can become a difficult task. Here are a few pointers:

  • Look for the words “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB” on the label – this will ensure you are protecting yourself from all of the sun’s damaging effects
  • Chose a product that is water-resistant if you anticipate sweating or swimming.
  • Don’t stress over SPF. SPF stands for “sun protection” factor. An SPF 15 sunscreen blocks over 90% of UV rays. What’s more important is re-applying periodically throughout the day.
  • Don’t let the cold weather fool you – while they may not feel warm, the suns rays are still penetrating the layers of your skin.
  • Wear sunscreen even when it’s cloudy – harmful UV rays are invisible and are able to pass through.
  • Don’t forget your ears and lips! Some skin cancers are especially common in these areas.
    Another consideration when choosing a sunscreen is chemical versus physical blockers:
  • Chemical sunscreens typically contain a combination of the following ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octpcrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. These work by absorbing the UV rays and preventing their damaging effects. Make sure to apply at least 30 minutes before heading outside, as these take some time before they begin working effectively.
  • Physical, or mineral, sunscreens contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. These works by creating a layer over the skin that deflects or blocks the UV rays from penetrating. These are a great choice especially if you have sensitive skin.

If preventing skin cancer isn’t incentive enough to wear sunscreen daily and avoid excessive sun exposure (and indoor tanning booths!), then consider the rapid effects on aging the sun’s rays can have. While a tan may look good for a week, avoiding exposure to UV rays will both delay and prevent aging for years.

For more information on skin cancer and prevention, please visit the Center for Disease Control’s website (https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/) and contact your physician for specific concerns regarding spots on your skin.

Read Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – every Monday. This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: drpmackarey@msn.com.

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Gesinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.