On the Bright Side

Ways to prevent and recover from sun damage this season

By Mariah Kline

Summer is my favorite season. The first time I have the opportunity to wear a sundress after a long winter, I can feel my most energetic self coming out of her shell. Unfortunately, this time of year also means that I’m more likely to burn and damage my skin.

For those who have already had their day in the sun (or hundreds of them), it’s not too late to reverse damage and prevent future harm. Aesthetician Janelle Willoughby and Dr. Robert Zax of the Skin Group frequently see patients who seek remedies to turn back the clock after too many sunburns or too much tanning.

“Utilizing prescription-grade topicals can really help during the summer months,” said Willoughby. “If someone suffers from excessive sun damage, pigmentation or hormonal pigmentation like melasma, that can quiet it down because the sun wants to darken those types of pigmentation problems.”

Chemical peels, laser treatments and intense pulsated light systems that can remove and lighten pigmentation are all options that can make dramatic corrections. Willoughby says that a personalized routine is essential for proper treatment since every person is different and lives a different lifestyle.

“We do a lot of customization,” Willoughby explains. “Sometimes it’s a multi-part system with some home care and then some office procedures. It all depends on how many activities each patient is doing outside in the summer months and what they’re a candidate for.”

For someone like me – a fair-skinned 20-something – Willoughby says it’s never too early to get skin checks and be aware of how I’m treating my skin each day.

“I always tell my 20-year-olds to start thinking about exfoliation,” she says. “It’s important, but what it looks like is different for everyone. It can be something mild. You don’t have to be investing a lot in your skin for corrective (measures) at this point but more protective and preventive. Good exfoliation, a good sunscreen and a good eye cream are imperative.”

Sunscreen is the obvious answer to protecting our skin, but many still don’t grasp just how important it is to wear it daily and to reapply it.

“Make daily moisturizer and sunscreen part of your morning routine,” Zax adds. “I don’t care if it’s raining or snowing, ultraviolet light is always reaching the Earth’s surface and damaging our skin.”

“Sunscreen slows down the aging rays as well as the pigmented rays,” says Willoughby. “We want to be cautious with how much sun we get and how quickly we get it. A lot of people tell me, ‘I have sunscreen in my makeup. Is that enough?’ I’m happy that there’s sunscreen in makeup, but I always tell them to use that as an added value – don’t use that as your sunscreen.”

Sunscreen in makeup is not the only misconception the Skin Group’s staff sees. Oftentimes, the practitioners find that moles and spots on the skin can be misleading.

“The ones that are scary looking are usually nothing,” says Willoughby. “And then some people think that the ones that are nothing – the pearly, scaly, scratchy spots – end up being more scary sometimes. I’ve found this on the cosmetic side. I don’t diagnose, but (patients) will show me something and it’ll end up being more concerning.”

A member of The Voice’s team recently learned this lesson firsthand. When Publisher Laura Snyder visited the Skin Group for a skin check, she discovered that one of her spots was not what it seemed.

“It had been three years since my last skin cancer screening,” she says. “I had a nagging concern about a dark spot on my shin that seemed to be getting larger. I kept worrying about all of the years I spent sunbathing and, I’m ashamed to admit, going to the tanning bed. Nurse Practitioner Shannon England quickly put my mind at ease about the dark spot on my shin, assuring me that it is a noncancerous seborrheic keratosis.

“But, she also spotted a pre-cancerous spot on my chest that I had never even noticed,” she continues. “I went back three days later for a five-minute cryosurgery, which consisted of a simple application of liquid nitrogen. It was virtually painless and didn’t even require a bandage.”

The Skin Group offers free skin checks for people of all ages who want to stay on top of their spots. But while many of us are ready to take sun damage seriously, others worry about not getting enough Vitamin D if they spend too little time in the sun.

“Some exposure is important,” Dr. Zax says. “We don’t need to go living in caves, but supplements are a good idea. There are some great, daily Vitamin D supplements. And sunscreen is not going to prevent all of the conversion of Vitamin D.”

“That’s a misconception people have,” Willoughby affirms. “Sunscreen will not keep you from getting a tan; it just slows down the conversion of the melanocytes and the aging rays. Protect yourself while you’re outside and you’re still going to be getting Vitamin D if you’re outdoors.”

This summer, enjoy the time outside but be smart about it. Apply sunscreen and re-apply it often, and if you’re anything like this fair-skinned writer, make it a priority now so you won’t have to undo the damage later. V

For more information about the Skin Group or to make an appointment, visit skingroup.org or call 502.583.6647.