Reversing the sun's damage

Thursday, June 29, 2006

"I like my wrinkles," declared one of my chipper gal pals. "They're like a road map to where I've been in my life."

That's fine for her, but I don't like the idea of everyone reading about past travels on my face. Actually, I imagine any face-readers will quickly determine a big part of my history was spent in the sun. They wouldn't be geniuses. We all know by now that too much exposure to UVA and UVB rays not only causes skin cancer, but wrinkles.

But what about all of us who, in the salad days of our youth, never heard about the evil effects of getting that tan? What if we actually thought it was cool to bake ourselves in the sun, lathered in iodine-laced baby oil, aluminum-foiled reflector screens held up to our faces as we puffed on our Winstons? Is it too late? Have we blown it? I posed this question to Julie Philips, a master estetician.

"Sun damage is reversible," was her emphatic answer. "There is no one magic thing that will do it, but there are several treatments, when taken in combination, can definitely reverse sun damage."

Lay it on me, Julie ... and make it painless. No knives or acid, please. This was her four-step plan for restoring sun-damaged skin.

Antioxidants.

There is considerable evidence that oral and topical antioxidants can reverse chronic sun damage. The top dog in this category is Vitamin A (in the form of Retin A or tretinoin). It increases blood flow to the skin and revives depleted collagen. Topical formulations of vitamin C and B's also work to neutralize the toxic wastes produced by sun exposure. Julie recommends using a good formulation of these vitamins every morning under a good moisturizing sun block.

Copper is a necessary trace mineral in the body, but as a product used for skin regeneration, it is a relative newcomer. Also an antioxidant, it promotes collagen and elastin. In other words, copper can enhance the skin's elasticity and strength. Research has also shown that it increases our body's natural tissue building process. It comes in many excellent topical formulations that Julie recommends using as a night cream.

Microdermabrasion.

Julie was one of the first in the United States to do this procedure that lightly sands away the surface skin particles and stimulates the structure of new skin cells. It has been likened to "soft sandblasting" of the skin by tiny crystals. One big benefit is that it is a nonsurgical proceedure and the treated skin recovers within 24 hours.

Intense pulsed light (IPL).

Through controlled light penetration, surface imperfections are removed. Those who the esthetician assesses as appropriate can look forward to ridding themselves of minor sun damage, broken capillaries, age spots and fine wrinkles. According to Julie, "IPL is a good way help make the skin look healthier without alot of down time." Julie will tell you (as she did me) that the most important thing we can do is to slather that sun tan lotion on our bodies half an hour before we go out even if it is a cloudy winter day. Make sure it is of at least a 30 SPF and "broad spectrum," which means it will block both UVA and UVB rays.

One last warning from Julie: "The skin is like a sponge, and after years of repeated assault and abuse from the sun, it refuses to absorb any more and the result is further damage to the skin. Wrinkles are one result, but the end result for some can be skin cancer." So lather up and get checked by your dermatologist regularly.

Dr. Michael Seabaugh is a Cape Girardeau native who lives and works in Santa Barbara, California. Comment at healthspan@mac.com and visit his website/blog: www.HealthspanWebsite.com.

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