Skin Damage From Sun

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Health Current Events, Skin Damage From Sun, Vitamin D

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

skin damage from sunSkin damage from sun is a real danger.  The dog days of summer are here. For some of us that means staying inside as much as possible. Others want to enjoy the fleeting days of summer as much as possible before summer turns to fall, and fall turns to winter. That means lots of outdoor activities in the sun – such as outdoor sports, working in the yard, and vacations in fun locations with lots of sun. So it’s time to ask the perennial question “How much sun exposure should I be getting?”

Some people like to aim for as much sun exposure as possible. When I was a teenager everybody was searching for “the perfect tan”. Back then it was popular to slather your skin with tanning oils that allowed you to just baste yourself in the sun without your skin drying up. (Did I just date myself again?)

Other people like to follow their dermatologist’s advice and use SPF maximum (the sun shall never touch my skin) sunscreens. And, just to be on the safe side they also follow their dermatologist’s advice to limit sun exposure between 10 AM and 4 PM and wear a hat, sunglasses, and protective clothing whenever possible. I can see the hat and sunglasses, but the protective clothing isn’t particularly compatible with the summer heat in my native North Carolina. Believe me, you want to wear as little as possible here in the summer.

Skin Damage From Sun

sun exposureNow that we’ve explored the extremes, let’s return to the central theme of this health tip which is “How much sun exposure should I really be getting?” Let’s start by focusing on the vanity factor – skin aging. Let’s face it. Excessive sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer. However, skin aging is the consequence most people really care about. This is the concern that has most people reaching for the sunscreen before they head out the door.

A recent clinical study clearly showed that sunscreen usage helps prevent skin aging (Hughes et al, Annals of Internal Medicine, 158: 781-790, 2013). Now you might be saying to yourself “This is nothing new. I’ve heard that for years.” Yes, that advice has been around for a long time. But the problem is that the old advice was never based on actual clinical studies, only studies done on hairless mice. So first, let me analyze this clinical study for you and then put the findings into perspective.

The good news is that this was a very well done clinical study. The authors enrolled 903 adults under the age of 55 from sunny Australia into the study for a 4.5-year period from 1992 to 1996. The study was restricted to adults younger than 55 years because, in that age range, skin aging is primarily caused by sun exposure rather than the normal aging process. The study also excluded people who were already using sunscreen on a daily basis. Variables such as skin color, skin reaction to sun exposure, amount of time spent outdoors, sunburn history, and smoking status were determined at baseline and used to normalize the results.

Half of the participants were given a sunscreen with an SPF 15 factor and were instructed to use this sunscreen on a daily basis. The other half were given nothing and were just instructed to keep doing what they had been doing (It was deemed unethical to give them a placebo sunscreen as it could cause skin damage from sun). Compliance was assessed by measuring the weight of the returned sunscreen bottles every three months and by using a biennial application frequency questionnaire. Compliance wasn’t perfect, but of those enrolled in the sunscreen portion of the study 77% used sunscreen 3 to 4 times per week, compared to 33% of the control group.

Skin damage from sun was assessed by taking an impression of the back of the left-hand and analyzing it for the number and depth of lines and the flattening of the skin. And the results were fairly clear-cut. Those study participants who used sunscreen on a daily basis had 24% less sun damage over the 4.5-year period than the control group. I am not an expert, but dermatologists who have evaluated this study say that a 24% decrease in sun damage is visibly significant.

What Does This Study Mean For You?

It turns out that the old advice that too much sun exposure can cause significant skin damage as we get older is actually true. Who would have guessed? If the threat of skin cancer isn’t enough to dissuade you from pursuing the perfect tan, perhaps the thought of ugly, wrinkled skin as you get older will do it.

On the flip side, however, we need to remember that sun exposure is also required for vitamin D formation. And recent studies show that up to 80% of Americans have low levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D, the biologically relevant form of vitamin D, in their blood – perhaps because many of us actually follow our dermatologist’s advice and never go out of the house without sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, and protective clothing to help prevent skin damage from sun.

Recent clinical studies have linked low levels of 25-hydroxy vitamin D with a number of health concerns. That has led one prominent dermatologist who studies vitamin D, Dr. Michael Holick, to recommend that we should be getting 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure during midday – a recommendation that many of his colleagues consider to be heretical.

How Can You Have Your Cake And Eat It Too?

vitamin DSo what is a person to do? How can we reconcile the need to improve our vitamin D status with our desire to have a healthy, good looking skin well into our golden years? The simple answer is to make sure that we are getting plenty of vitamin D in our diet. The most recent RDAs are 600 IU per day of vitamin D in children and adults up to the age of 70 and 800 IU per day for adults over 70.

Many experts are even recommending that we get 1000 to 2000 IU of vitamin D per day. The Institute of Medicine (the group that actually sets the RDAs) considers that to be in the safe range for vitamin D intake. If you are thinking of exceeding that dosage, my advice would be to first get your 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels determined (20-50 ng/ml or 50-125 nmol/L is considered optimal) and then consult with your doctor as to what the best dosage of vitamin D is for you.

And, if you are relying on supplements for your vitamin D intake, you should be sure to choose a company that manufactures their supplements according to pharmaceutical standards. A recent study(E. S. LeBlanc et al, JAMA Internal Medicine, 173:585-586, 2013)  analyzed commercially available vitamin D supplements and found some brands in which the potency from bottle to bottle ranged from 9% to 140% of what was on the label. That is unacceptable.

 

The Bottom Line

  • A recent study has confirmed what we have been told for years, namely that regular use of an SPF 15 sunscreen reduces skin aging. Specifically, the study showed that regular sunscreen use reduced skin aging by 24% over a 4.5-year period in people 55 years old or younger.
  • On the other hand, sun exposure is required for our bodies to synthesize the active form of vitamin D. Vitamin D experts like Dr. Michael Holick recommend that we get at least 10-15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure a day during the summer months to assure that our bodies make the vitamin D we need for optimal health.
  • If you want both young looking skin and optimal vitamin D status, you will probably want to consider a vitamin D supplement. Recommendations for how much and what kind of vitamin D supplement are found in the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Latest Article

How to Choose the Right Pillow

Posted April 17, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Wake Up Each Morning Pain Free

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT – The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

 

how to choose the right pillow without headachesThe way you sleep is often a key to discovering the cause of headaches and more. If you wake up with neck pain, a headache, or you suffer from ringing in your ears, dizziness, or ear pain, there is a good possibility that it may be caused by the way you are sleeping. Your pillow may be the culprit.  But if you need to know how to choose the right pillow for you, it’s easy.   It just takes a little “investigation.”

 

How to Choose the Right Pillow if You Sleep On Your Side

Your head, neck, and spine need to always stay in a nice straight line, just as it is when you are standing up, but that takes a little thought and understanding of the way you sleep.  So, get comfy in your bed and then notice how your head is resting.

how to choose the right pillow to sleep painfreeIf you sleep on your side, your pillow needs to be just the right size, so your head doesn’t point down toward the mattress (your pillow is too soft) or up to the ceiling (your pillow is too thick). Either of these positions will make the muscles on the side of your neck stay in the contracted position for hours and pull your vertebrae in that direction, especially when you try to turn over to your other side.

Your SCM Muscle May Cause Serious Problems

You also need to notice if you turn your head a bit, especially if you are turning into your pillow or turning your head up toward away from your pillow. In either of these two cases you will be causing your sternocleidomastoid (SCM for short) to be held shortened for hours.

Your SCM originates on your collarbone and inserts into the bone behind your ear.  When it contracts you turn your head to the opposite side. However, if the muscle is tight (for example, when you’ve held your head turned toward one side for an extended period of time) and then you bring your head back so you are facing forward, the tight muscle will pull on the bone behind your ear and cause havoc.

The symptoms for a tight SCM are tinnitus (ringing in the ear), dizziness, loss of equilibrium, ear pain, headaches, pain in the eye and around the skull, pain at the top of the head, and even pain in the throat. Amazing! What’s even more amazing is that it’s rare that this muscle is considered when a medical professional is searching for the cause of your symptoms.

These are the things to know when considering how to choose the right pillow if you sleep on your side.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Back

how to choose the right pillow for sleeping on your backIf you sleep on your back, your head should be on the mattress (not propped up with a pillow) and you should have a tiny support (like a folded washcloth) under your neck.  Or, you can have a wedge pillow that starts at your mid-back and gently raises your entire trunk and head up while still allowing your head and back to be in a straight line.

It’s always a challenge for people who toss and turn during the night, sometimes on their side and sometimes on their back.  The best thing I’ve found for this situation is to have the pillow below shoulder level so when you turn on your side your shoulder will automatically slide to the edge of the pillow while still supporting your head properly, and when you turn onto your back, the pillow will start at shoulder level so your head and neck are supported, but your head is being pushed in a way that causes your chin to move down to your chest.

hip pain causes and treatment pain freeIt’s tricky, but I can personally attest to the fact that it will work.  I can always tell when I’ve had my head tilted (I toss and turn during the night) because I will wake with a headache. When that happens I’m grateful that I know how to self-treat the muscles of my neck and shoulders so the headache is eliminated quickly.  If you already have Treat Yourself to Pain Free Living,  you can self-treat all your neck and shoulder muscles to release the tension.

How To Choose The Right Pillow If You Sleep On Your Stomach

If you sleep on your stomach, this is the one position that is so bad that it behooves you to force yourself to change your position. Your head is turned to the side and held still for hours, putting a severe strain on all your cervical and upper thoracic vertebrae. Not only will this cause headaches, tinnitus, and a list of other pains, but it can cause problems down your entire spine. It can also impinge on the nerves that pass through the vertebrae on their way to your organs.

If you do sleep that way, let me know and I’ll give you some suggestions that work to change your habit of sleeping. It takes time and energy, but the results are worth the effort.

In every case, the way you sleep may cause neck pain that won’t go away until the pillow situation is resolved.

Now you should know how to choose the right pillow for the way you sleep.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly

About The Author

julie donnelly

Julie Donnelly is a Deep Muscle Massage Therapist with 20 years of experience specializing in the treatment of chronic joint pain and sports injuries. She has worked extensively with elite athletes and patients who have been unsuccessful at finding relief through the more conventional therapies.

She has been widely published, both on – and off – line, in magazines, newsletters, and newspapers around the country. She is also often chosen to speak at national conventions, medical schools, and health facilities nationwide.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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