Photoaging

oldphotoIf you just looked at the title of this article and assumed I would tell you about how the flash on a camera gradually makes you look older, don’t worry.  It doesn’t.  If you assumed I would discuss a camera adding 10 pounds, you have the wrong article altogether.

While a camera bulb is harmless, a much larger light source in the sky actually makes the skin look older.  Although we think mostly about the effects of the sun and skin protection during the spring and summer, your skin is affected by the damaging rays of the sun much more, and more often, than you might realize.

The sun’s rays of concern are in two wavelengths of the ultraviolet radiation spectrum.  UV-B rays affect the more superficial layers of the skin, and are the rays that cause sunburns.  UV-A rays penetrate deeper into the skin, and cause more of the long term effects of sun damage.

Courtesy of skincancer.org

Courtesy of skincancer.org

When the photons of the sun’s rays hit your skin, a number of harmful and damaging effects occur.  First, the photons oxidize proteins within the skin which then activate an enzyme, matrix metalloproteinase (MMP).

Once MMP is activated, it starts breaking down collagen and elastin.  If those two proteins are not working, your skin becomes less firm and less flexible.

Next, the oxidative stress also causes release of other substances including cytokines, growth factors and free radicals, all of which damage skin DNA and affecting the continued production of healthy new skin cells.  Additionally, UV radiation decreases levels of immune cells within the skin that are responsible for skin repair and defense against abnormal cells that could progress into localized cancers.

These destructive processes result visually in what is known as photoaging.  The signs of photoaging on the skin include wrinkling, sagging, age spots, spider veins and enlarged pores (blackheads).

This sun-induced aging process can be accelerated by the degree of sun exposure and by the amount of color in the skin.  These effects are also most commonly seen on the most sun-exposed areas such as the face, neck, upper chest, hands and forearms.

daily-replenishingAs I have advocated many times in the past, sunscreens are the first line of defenseSunscreens operate at the skin surface to limit the amount and degree of UV radiation penetrating into the deep skin and triggering the effects of photoaging.

The only truly effective sunscreens will provide protection against both UV-A and UV-B rays.  Sunscreens are only effective if applied to all exposed areas (even on cloudy days) in sufficient doses evenly, and reapplied when recommended depending on the given SPF number.

Another effective measure is avoiding sun exposure during the peaks hours of UV radiation, especially between 10 AM and 2 PM.  If you can’t help but be out in the sun between those hours,  having physical barriers such as hats, shade and UV tinted car windows can also help.

Numerous studies confirm the common sense with regards to the sun and ultraviolet exposure.  If you can avoid the short-term effects including tanning and sunburn, you can also avoid the longer term effects of photoaging and preventable skin cancer.

Of course, many of the photoaging effects can be treated by laser treatments for the damage already done from childhood and early adulthood sun excesses.  Give us a call at 207-873-2158 for a free consultation and/or for recommendations on sunscreen and other skin care products.

About Dr. John Burke

John Burke M.D. has practiced medicine for over 25 years, and is the founding partner of MidMaine Internal Medicine. He established Maine Laser Skin Care in 2004 after devoting years to learning the latest in laser and dermatologic technology. Dr. Burke has treated patients from all over the United States. He is one of Maine's busiest practitioners in laser treatments, and in the use of Botox for upper facial lines and excessive sweating.
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