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January 9, 2003

Sun’s rays pose problems in winter too, doctor says

Although the heat of summer is a distant memory, a UPMC Health System dermatologist warns that people can still suffer skin damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays that results in premature aging of the skin.

“Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays increase in spring and summer resulting in sunburns, but ultraviolet A (UVA) rays are constant year-round, and these are what cause skin aging,” said Suzan Obagi, assistant professor of dermatology and director of UPMC Health System’s Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center in Wexford.

“UVA penetrates windows at home, work and in automobiles and shallow water. Therefore, daily sunscreen use is still a must. For direct sun exposure longer than 10 minutes, a sun block of over 30 SPF should be used. This step will minimize further damage to the skin,” she said.

Obagi offers the following tips on keeping skin healthy and young looking:

• Consumer education on skin care products is vital. “Just open any magazine or take a trip down to the cosmetic counter and you inevitably encounter product after product geared towards the treatment of aging skin,” she said.

“These products claim to enhance the youthful appearance of the skin by giving the skin a healthy glow, treating fine lines and wrinkles, and virtually delivering a fountain of youth in a jar. Unfortunately, whether it is a $10 cosmetic product or a $1,000 jar, manufacturers are under no regulation from the Food and Drug Administration to justify their claims.”

• Smoking and sun exposure take a major toll on the skin. “The damage to the skin from the combination of smoking and sun exposure is not just additive but multiplicative. This results in rough, freckled, wrinkled skin that lacks a healthy glow,” Obagi said.

• Skin repair and collagen production can be enhanced with the use of a very good time-tested agent, tretinoin, the generic form of Retin-A.

“Realistically, our skin, which is the first barrier to environmental insult, ages in direct correlation to the level of damage it has received,” she said. “Collagen production, which keeps skin firm, drops off 1 percent per year after the age of 20 and this results in skin laxity and wrinkling. Put aside all the negative things you have heard about tretinoin. It can make you a little red, dry and flaky, but this usually subsides in a few weeks.

“In fact, initially your wrinkles may look worse before they improve,” Obagi said. “However, it is a myth that you can’t go out in the sun while you are using tretinoin. You can enjoy your outdoor activities but you must use a good sun block and hat. Having seen the long-term effects of tretinoin on the skin, which is further substantiated by very good clinical studies, I place all patients over the age of 25 on it. Most patients notice a very noticeable improvement in their skin.”

• For more stubborn freckles and brown spots, other prescription strength products may help, such as hydroquinone, Obagi suggested. “Finding an agent that can be tolerated but without counteracting the tretinoin is the trick. For this, I would urge you to see your dermatologist. Remember, other than taxes, the only other constant in life is aging. I urge all people to take an early step to intervene,” she said.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 9

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