Let’s face it: With summer comes the opportunity for all kinds of skin problems. This includes attacks by mosquitoes and ticks; sporting activities where bumps, bruises, cuts and abrasions abound; and the notorious ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
It’s always a good idea to be sun smart and sun safe. When it comes to taking good care of your skin, there are three key principles:
1) Gentle cleansing. This is extremely important to do for your skin to reduce irritation and increase cleanliness and hygiene. I recommend using non-detergent or low-detergent cleansing products such as Dove, Vanicream cleansing bar, Neutrogena products, Cetaphil and Basis. All of these work well to cleanse the skin without irritation.
2) Skin hydration. This is one of the most important things you can do for your skin. A little-known trick and one of the biggest things you can do to keep your skin hydrated is to use a gentle cleanser that won’t take away the natural oils in your skin.
In addition to the cleansers listed above, it’s also important to use a good emollient, hydrating lotion or cream. I like to use CeraVe lotion or cream because it contains a technology called a microvesicular emulsion. This means there are little microspheres of moisturizing lipids in water that break down over several hours, constantly replenishing the skin’s moisture.
There are other over-the-counter lotions that contain ammonium lactate, which will actually penetrate the skin and assist in holding water in the skin. In summer the two most important things you can do for skin hydration is to use a gentle cleanser and to use moisturizers.
The most important time to use a moisturizer is immediately after bathing or showering. As soon as you finish the bath or shower, step out and gently pat your skin dry with a cotton towel and immediately apply the moisturizing lotion, cream or emollient.
This serves two important functions: Number one, it seals in all of the water your skin has absorbed during your bathing, and secondly, it adds another layer of moisturization to help replenish the water normally lost throughout the day. This is very important in the winter when humidity levels are low and the air extremely dry.
3) Protection from ultraviolet radiation. There are mainly three types of ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet C is almost totally blocked out by the ozone layer. Ultraviolet B and A penetrate the ozone and can have profound effects on our skin.
Ultraviolet B, “wavelength 290-320 nanometers,” is responsible for irritation and sunburns. Ultraviolet A, “wavelength 320-400 nanometers,” is a much longer wavelength and can penetrate much deeper into the skin. This ultraviolet A actually wreaks much more havoc on our skin than most of us realize.
When we use a sunscreen, the SPF number is really a sun protection factor indicating the blocking of ultraviolet B rays, the ones responsible for burning the skin. In the old days, if you could stay out for one hour without getting burned, an SPF of 15 theoretically means 15 hours. Although in actuality this doesn’t quite hold true, that’s where the SPF number calculation comes from.
Not so long ago, most sunscreens only had an SPF factor, but they didn’t block ultraviolet A. Ultraviolet A is responsible for sun freckles, the development of wrinkles, and most importantly the development of skin cancer. Ultraviolet A can actually penetrate and break DNA, causing all kinds of signs associated with aging skin.
Next week: skin color, vitamin D, and some basics of skin protection.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations.