Photoaging: You Can Help Prevent it and Even Reverse it.

Photo damaging is a time-lapsed process that begins during childhood. It is the result of exposure to the sun's rays over both long and short periods. It can be acute, as in the case of a serious sunburn, or cumulative, leading to skin hyperpigmentation, (discoloration, blotches or dark brown patches,) fine lines and wrinkles, loss of elasticity and in some cases, skin cancer. All of the above are characteristics generally described as photoaging.

But what to do…since most people find it difficult to, (or choose not to) avoid the sun.

In point of fact, we all need sunlight to thrive. Light activates the production of nutrients that we require and regulates mood as well as the biochemical processes that are vital to maintaining optimal health and a youthful appearance. However, 95% of the radiation reaching the earth consists of UVA rays. It is the long lengths of UVA waves that can penetrate deeper into both the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin, causing severe structural damage right down to our DNA. So the key becomes protection rather than deprivation.

The first line of defense, as you no doubt have heard over and over, is to adequately protect your skin from these harmful rays. But here are some guidelines that you may find illuminating (no pun intended).

At the bare minimum you should apply product with an SPF of at least 15 but ideally, 30SPF. The SPF number times 10 (i.e.15 x 10, 30 x 10, etc.) is a guide to how many minutes of protection at a given percentage, (generally 94-97%) a product will provide with a single application. If you are of lighter complexion, or know that you tend to burn rapidly, you should automatically go with the higher SPF. But whether the SPF value is higher or lower, like feeding a parking meter, you will have to replenish the sun block on your skin each time the clock runs out to assure uninterrupted protection.

Consider, also, that filtration technologies once only available in Europe can now be found in products marketed in the United States. One such ingredient, Parsol 1789, was approved as a category 1 sunscreen by the FDA in 1997. It is a patented UVA filter that provides protection throughout the entire UVA spectrum. You will find it as part of a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB filter in premium formulations.

A slightly different way to go is with sun blockers. Whereas sunscreens keep out the harmful rays and allow beneficial light frequencies to pass into the body, sunblocks reflect rays of all wavelengths.

Which is the better approach? That will depend on whom you ask. It can be argued that while screens may have some chemical constituents, blockers deprive the body of needed light stimulation. At the end of the day, you may want to consider your individual lifestyle and skin type and make a decision accordingly. You could even use both; sunblock on your face, neck and décolleté, (since these areas are particularly susceptible to damage) and sunscreen on the rest of your body. Either way, the bottom line is to get the protection; and by its own means, each system will provide that if properly applied.

A water-resistant product can be a good idea as well. But remember, though, that's "water-resistant" not "waterproof". There are no truly waterproof sunscreens. If a sea mist sprays you, you're probably okay. But take a dip in the ocean and your protection is effectively gone. So, re-applied any product between swims and keep in mind that some of the worst exposure can occur while you are in the water -sunscreen or not.

In summary, enjoy the sun, but don't lose your skin doing it!