Repair Summer Damage

This year it seemed as if spring arrived late and summer went by in a flash, but it did bring enough sunshine to do temporary or permanent damage to your skin. The light of the sun has damaging components within its scope. The ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B are light waves which can either tan and age the skin (UVA) or can be ionizing rays which can promote DNA damage, mutations, and skin cancer. These rays can enhance the skin temporarily with a nice tan color or can cause physical changes such as crusts on red areas, which are the precursors to skin cancers including Basal Cell CA, Squamous Cell CA, or Melanoma.

If you had a lot of exposure during the past summer and if you also have cumulative damage from previous years, then you should have your primary care physician or a dermatologist check you over thoroughly for any signs of sun damage. If there is a suspicious area, a small 2mm punch biopsy or a shave biopsy will tell exactly what level of damage you may have and will also prove whether or not there is a skin cancer present.

In approaching repair of any level of sun damage, the first consideration is use of a moisturizer to keep the skin supple and prevent drying and cracking of the epithelial layer. I personally feel that products with petroleum should be avoided, as this substance is derived from coal or oil and may have a negative effect on the skin.

Light olive oil or coconut oil are two readily available and inexpensive products that can be used anywhere on the body, especially the legs and chest area where you may not want to use a more expensive product. Other natural oils are shea butter, jojoba oil (expensive), and Argan oil. Aloe vera is not really an oil, but has some good moisturizing characteristics and is sometimes combined with other oils to improve action.

The next category of items that can improve your skin includes ablative products and procedures, which will get rid of some of the dead or damaged cells and help generate better and healthier new skin. Retin A is one product that is useful, especially after sun exposure is over for the summer. This will actually kill some damaged skin cells and allow healthy new cells to come in their place. The first few weeks of Retin A use may be difficult because it brings redness and itching. This will soon give way to smoother more toned skin.

Microdermabrasion cream is like fine sandpaper in a jar with abrasive particles in a moisturizing carrier. The effect is to debride the superficial skin, which actually improves fine wrinkles. Follow this product with a chemical (light) peel by a skin care specialist. This can sometimes be combined with application of nutrients such as vitamin C, resveratrol, or coffee extract products.

It has also been clearly shown that eating a highly nutrient diet with greens, butter, eggs, blueberries, and wild salmon can improve skin quality and tone. There is an oral supplement available online called Fern Block, which contains nutrients that can help prevent skin cancer.

If damage is cumulative and more severe, then external laser such as Fraxel or a radiofrequency driven instrument such as the Thermi-smooth can be administered by a skin care specialist. For home treatments, some patients report good results with a thermoelectric pulse unit such as Nuface, which is used on the facial skin. A new instrument on the treatment scene is Tria, a home-based laser for personal use to give topical rejuvenation. All of these treatments damage the skin slightly and act to stimulate newer and healthier skin cells.

If the skin is slightly shrunken around the mouth with wrinkles, fat grafting or PRP injection can help with skin quality as well as volume of tissue. Stem cell extracts and preparations may also be used with very effective results but are more expensive than other modalities listed.

Some or several of these products, treatments, or methods may be used to your advantage. Also, remember to take vitamin D supplements when not getting exposure to the sun because your natural vitamin D is derived from sunshine and cholesterol. Stay healthy with moderate sun exposure, but especially protect your facial skin, as it will be exposed to your acquaintances for many years.

Dr. James Carraway is a plastic surgeon at the Cosmetic & Plastic Surgery Center of EVMS. Call 757-557-0300 for more information.

James H. Carraway, M.D.

Dr. James Carraway is a full-time academic and practicing clinical plastic surgeon.  He is Director of the Cosmetic & Plastic Surgery Center of EVMS, is board certified in surgery and plastic surgery, and is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.  Dr. Carraway has been teaching and practicing for 30+ years and has been director and chairman of residency training programs and fellowship programs in plastic surgery.
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