Guest post by: Jane Neville Dudik, Acne Treatment Center
In a long career of writing weird songs, probably the weirdest one Al Yankovic ever wrote is called 'Everything You Know is Wrong. Maybe it’s not a great song, but the title is certainly appropriate when it comes to the natural aging of skin.
I’m betting just about everything you know about that is wrong.
If you are anything like most of our clients, you are going to be surprised by what I am about to tell you.
Most everything you think of as natural aging of the skin is not caused by the passage of time.
It is actually caused by cumulative exposure to the sun.
- “Liver spots”
- Those red lines your mom called “broken capillaries” (they aren’t broken, and they are really called telangiectasia, but that’s a whole different post)
- Textural changes
- Thinning skin
- Increased bruising
- Those odd bumps one of my favorite mentors in her lovely New Zealand accent called “old-lady-warty-things” (if you really want a mouthful try sebaceous hyperplasia and seborrheic keratoses).
Every single one is caused by cumulative exposure to the sun.
I can hear you from here...“But I haven’t had time to lie out in the sun for years!”
Your cumulative exposure doesn’t come from lying out in the sun. I mean that doesn’t help, but even if you never lie out in the sun, you are still building it up.
All those trips out to the mailbox. All the years of driving in your car. Pushing your two-year-old on the swings. Going for a walk on a cloudy day. Watching the kids’ soccer games. Walking the dog. All incidental, short-lived, not deliberate, sun exposure.
But over the years of your life, it adds up.
If you live in a place where the sun is strong, Florida, Arizona, California, it adds up in fewer years than it does in places like Seattle and Portland, but rainy climate folks have serious problems with sun exposure too.
Let’s talk about the sun for a minute. It’s going to get a bit geeky here, but stay with me.
- The sun emits just about all of the electromagnetic spectrum, from tiny, powerful x-rays all the way down to long-length microwaves and radio waves.
- It even emits gamma rays – the tiniest, most powerful – from solar flares.
- Fortunately for life on our planet, our atmosphere stops the vast majority of these rays. The only part of the spectrum that makes it to sea level is the very center, which includes the visible spectrum of the rainbow and some ultraviolet (shorter wavelengths than visible violet) and infrared (longer wavelengths than visible red).
- Extra-long radio waves do too, but they don’t matter in this context. At least we think they don’t!
- UV rays are all the rays from 10 to 400 nanometers. (A nanometer, or nm, is a billionth of a meter, but you really don’t need to worry about it). Below 10 and you are getting into x-ray territory.
- The shorter the wavelength the more powerful the ray.
While scientists are currently exploring what visible light and infrared do for, or to, the skin, ultraviolet rays are what you need to know about when it comes to the sun’s effect on the skin.
Scientists group UV rays into UVA, UVB and UVC.
UVC (10-290nm) are the shortest of UV rays and the most powerful...but they are stopped by the ozone layer. We are really happy they are stopped by the ozone because they have the power to destroy life. If you have been hearing about sanitation via UV, it’s with UVC, which can kill microbes. And us.
UVB (290-320nm) are the shortest and most powerful waves to make it through the atmosphere. Because they are short wave lengths, they are stopped by clouds, they are stopped by glass, and they stop in your skin's epidermis and the very top of your dermis where they do a bunch of things, most of them bad, (but one good.)
(We'll get to UVA in Part 2.)
First, and most famously, they cause your skin to burn.
It starts with dilation of blood vessels. For many of us our skin turns pink in just 10 or 15 minutes in the sun. If we go inside this color fades rapidly. It isn’t a burn.
But stay out longer and the dilation lasts far longer and then UVB begins to stimulate the nerve endings. Next it starts a process of extreme dehydration which cause the outer layers of the epidermis to peel off. Sometimes the burn is so bad as to cause blistering and require medical attention.
Most of us have at least one intimate experience with a sunburn.
Sun Exposure and Your Immune Health
While most of us are familiar with sunburn, most of us are unaware of the fact that even short exposure to UVB interferes with the immune function of the skin.
The epidermis contains specialized immune cells called Langerhans cells which regulate the skin’s immune response.
Langerhans cells are very susceptible to sun exposure.
One episode of even short duration knocks these cells out of commission for a few days leaving the skin vulnerable. This vulnerability is why people prone to cold sores will often get a breakout after having been out in the sun.
Longer or repeated exposure can knock these cells out for long enough for psoriasis and even Lupus to get a start.
Even worse, without them, skin cancers can take hold. Most basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are caused by exposure to UVB.
UVB is at its most damaging between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.
Prior to 10 and after 4, the angle of the sun means the rays have to travel through a lot more atmosphere and so many more of them get stopped.
UVB does do one good thing for you. It causes your skin to produce vitamin D3, and it is the best way of getting the most effective vitamin D for the human body.
However, your skin can produce 10,000 IUs of vitamin D in just 30 minutes of UVB exposure.
10,000 is way more than your body can use in a day, so ten to 15 minutes, say a short chat with your neighbor by the mailbox, will certainly do the trick.
I can’t wait to tell you about the secret enemy of your skin, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome.
So give your brain a rest and come back for part 2.
Jane Neville Dudik, founder and owner of The Acne Treatment Center, is a licensed master esthetician, a certified aesthetic consultant and a certified advanced acne specialist. She also is NCEA certified in advanced esthetics. She has pursued studies with CIDESCO, the Physician’s Care Alliance, the International Dermal Institute, Educated Therapists, and The Aesthetic Practitioners’ Association. She has been privileged to have studied acne with James Fulton, MD, PhD, microneedling with Lance Setterfield, MD, and Advance Skin Analysis and Cosmetic Chemistry with the incomparable Florence Barrett Hill. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree from Duke University and her Master’s Degree from Harvard University.
Jane lives in Vancouver, WA with her husband. They have three grown sons.