Kodiak is the most beautiful place in the world in the summer. Where else can you enjoy velvety sandy beaches, mountain hikes, amazing fishing, ocean sports, wildlife viewing and long summer days all in one place?
I love feeling the warm sun on my skin, and I enjoy being a little bit tan in the summer. Unfortunately, too much sun exposure can be damaging to our skin. Premature aging due to sun exposure is called photoaging. Skin can develop wrinkles, dark spots, dryness, roughness or loss of elasticity at a faster rate when it is exposed to the sun. People with lighter skin types are more susceptible to photoaging, which can occur in 80-90 percent of fair-skinned people. All types of skin cancer, both melanoma and non-melanoma, are linked to sun exposure.
The best way to maintain youthful, healthy skin is to avoid sun damage by either minimizing sun exposure or by using sunscreen. Ultraviolet light from the sun comes in different wavelengths, UVA and UVB. Each wavelength causes different types of damage to the skin. UVA light seems to be responsible for photoaging, while UVB light is probably responsible for damage to the skin’s DNA, increasing the risk of skin cancer. Ultraviolet light causing sun damage to skin is brightest from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., so try to avoid sunlight during those times. Many weather apps provide the UV index, which is a rating from 0 to 11+, corresponding to lowest (0) and highest (11+) risk of sun exposure that day.
Some sunscreens can protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. Be sure to read labels on the sunscreen products to see what level of protection they offer. The SPF rating on sunscreen usually refers to UVB protection. Most dermatologists recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen (UVA and UVB) with SPF higher than 30. Remember that sunscreen has a short shelf life, and leaving the sunscreen in a hot place like your car can hasten its degradation. Apply the sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going outside, and reapply sunscreen every 2-3 hours using a generous amount. Be sure to reapply sunscreen after sweating or swimming.
You can also wear photo-protective clothing, hats and sunglasses, which also reduce sun damage to skin. Sun reflects well off of water, sand, concrete and snow, which may intensify your exposure. Sunlight also causes cataracts, so make sure your sunglasses protect against 100 percent of UV light.
Sun protection is especially important in children. Just one severe, blistering sunburn in a child or infant can predispose them to melanoma later in life. Infants younger than six months should be protected with shade, clothing, and hats rather than sunscreen if possible.
If you are concerned about your skin already being sun-damaged, there are some options to help decrease the cosmetic effects. The topical agents sometimes prescribed contain vitamin A derivatives, or retinoids, and these can help repair the sun-damaged skin. The agents are usually prescribed for at least four months and they do cause skin irritation, peeling, and dryness. More invasive treatments such as chemical peels, laser treatments or injections are sometimes used but carry some risk of significant side effects.
I hope you are inspired this summer to enjoy Kodiak in new ways. Think of how much we need the sun every day, and try to protect yourself from its awesome power. “The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us” (Psalm 118: 27).
Janet Abadir is a board certified general surgeon practicing at the Specialty Clinic at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center