July 28th, 2008
10:33 AM ET

Sun safety staves off sagging skin

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

I love the beach.  But the sun and surf don't like my skin.  I cover myself with SPF 40 and limit my time outdoors but still I come out with blotchy skin, redness and peeling.  It hasn't always been this way.  When I was younger, I would get a great tan – with freckles.  But as I got older, the great tan went away. Little did I know I may have been damaging my skin.  

Dermatologists believe that how we treat our skin in our 20s will have a huge impact on how our skin ages. Dr. Thomas Nigra, a dermatologist with Washington Hospital Center, says, "What you do in your teens and 20s shows up in your 30s. So what you do in your 30s doesn't really mean a total protection because you've already done a lot of damage that results in your skin sagging in your late 30s."

Small lines and wrinkles begin to show on the face. More sun exposure means more wrinkles.  The reason?  Too many UV rays from the sun.  "The light penetrates deeply into the dermis.  It then causes the collagen and the elastin to get lax and the skin sags," Nigra says.

Some sunscreen can protect you from further damage. But not all sunscreens are the same. According to a recent survey by the Environmental Working Group, many sunscreens don't adequately do the job.  The consumer advocacy group says look for ones that protect against UVA and UVB rays. If all those letters are confusing, think of UVB as the burning spectrum – "B" for burning and the A spectrum as "A" for aging.  And then look for protection against both in a sunscreen.

Also products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide do a good job with an SPF of 30 or higher if you're sunbathing and an SPF 15 on a daily basis.  If you are around water, make sure your sunscreen is waterproof, not water resistant. To keep skin from drying, use a moisturizer at night, especially after a day in the sun.

As we get into our 40s and 50s, we start to get age spots.  Doctors recommend retinoids, which are a chemical form of Vitamin A.  They help clear up some of those spots and rejuvenate the skin.

Also watch for skin cancer.  Although skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and melanoma can happen at any time, more cases are reported in this age group.  Also keep an eye on moles and dark spots.  They could be signs of developing cancer lesions.  

Do you love the beach or being out in the sun?  How do you protect yourself from aging and harmful rays?   Let us know.

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