What you need to know about the sun’s relationship to skin, a message from your Medical Aesthetician.
We are all celebrating the break in the cold weather as spring is waking up in our city. The warmth and light of the sun is a truly wonderful and healing part of life.
It is important to understand how the sun affects your skin so that you can enjoy it safely. As you read this, please don’t stress about the past! I’m here to help you to deal with the results of those experiences, but we’ll get to that in another article. The amazing star that warms our planet and gives it light and life should not be scorned for its scorch; it’s our responsibility to learn and take care.
Sunlight is composed of visible light, infrared light, and UV (ultraviolet) light. UV light is a form of light energy – a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, or solar spectrum – which is harmful to us. UV radiation is a proven carcinogen and has three wavelengths: A, B, and C. UVC has the shortest wavelength and is mostly absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere.
UVA rays have the longest and most damaging wavelength and are not blocked by clouds, windows, or most clothing. 80% of UVA light still comes through on a cloudy day, which means you should wear sunscreen every day, no matter the weather. These wavelengths also travel the deepest into the skin, into the dermis and the hypodermis causing damage to the collagen and elastin fibers. The dermis is comprised of 70% collagen and is commonly referred to as the “scaffolding” of the skin, holding it up and giving it structure. The effect of UVA light becomes obvious over time as it accelerates the signs of aging – even if it never amounts to a sunburn. The damage is invisible and gradual, and the cumulative effects of this damage show up later as thickened, aged skin.
UVB is a shorter wavelength which cannot pass through window glass. It primarily affects the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, then gradually travels to the dermis. The radiation intensity of UVB is about a thousand times stronger than UVA, and it’s the major cause of skin cancer as it is highly cytotoxic (toxic to living cells) and mutates DNA. UVB is responsible for sun burns and tanning, both of which are forms of skin cell damage. Most commonly over time, this damage presents (visually) as dark spots, thinned skin which shows veins, enlarged pores, textural issues, and more. The saving grace of UVB is that it does contribute to the body’s synthesis of Vitamin D. While sunlight itself does not contain Vitamin D (a common misconception), it does aid in its synthesis.
What we experience with radiation on the skin is “free radical damage”. Free radicals attack and steal the electrons of our cells causing cellular confusion. They cause inflammation, oxidation, and photoaging. This is why antioxidants, which have extra electrons to support cellular function while correcting and protecting, should be a core aspect of everybody’s skin care routine.
L-Ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C, is a common antioxidant used in skincare. L-Ascorbic acid is an unstable molecule; it doesn’t hold potency when exposed to open air or light and needs to be properly processed in a lab. Look for medical grade serums with 10% (or higher) Vitamin C or ask your Medical Aesthetician for recommendations.
Other antioxidants for your skin include Vitamin E and A. For some people who struggle with acne, Vitamin E can be too heavy and cause breakouts. In others, it helps oxidative stress and softens the outer layers of the skin, thus aiding in a clear complexion. As we are all so unique, it is important to have discussions about your skin and skincare routine with an educated professional. Skincare consultations at Papillon Medical are always complimentary, and we invite you to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have.
One last point about sun protection is that not all sunscreens are good for you. Many drug store, chemical-based sunscreens actually contain free radicals themselves! There are two types of sun protection products: physical blocks and chemical screens. Physical sun blocks (look for products that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) do not penetrate the skin. Chemical sunscreens need to be reapplied often, as they are absorbed into the skin and are processed through the body. Many people find physical sun blocks too heavy and white appearing to want to use them on their face; this is why medical grade skin care lines have created a variety of blended physical/chemical sunscreens. My favorite way to protect my skin without looking like I’m wearing a mountain of sunblock is to use any ZO sunscreen after my moisturizer, and then dust Jane Iredale Pressed Powder (which has a mineral SPF of 25, made to match all skin tones) overtop. Finish with a spritz of rose petal water for a dewy set.
I hope this message inspires you all to reach for your sunscreen and add antioxidants A, C, and E into your daily face and body routine – especially during this warmer weather.
By Nicole Whiteside, Medical Aesthetician / Laser Technician
Papillon Medical & Dermatology