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The sun is the major cause of skin aging, part of a process called photoaging. Those age spots and wrinkles you thought were naturally part of your body’s maturation are actually caused by the harmful effects of the sun over a lifetime of exposure. Protection from the sun, including SPF at all times and limited amounts of direct exposure, is the only way to prevent those unwelcome effects of aging. Sun damage is also the major cause of skin cancer. Having direct family members who have had skin cancer also increases your risk of developing skin cancer. However, the major risk factor is sun exposure.

The ultraviolet (UV) light in the sun is the real culprit. Two types of ultraviolet rays exist: UVA and UVB. UVB causes sunburn while UVA causes suntan. Both are damaging to the appearance of your skin and contribute to photaging. Both can cause skin cancer. Indoor tanning beds are just as harmful as the sun, because they emit those same ultraviolet rays. Also, you can experience sun damage any time of the year—in the winter or the summer. It can cause freckles, wrinkles, discoloration, benign tumors and pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesions. These pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions on your skin are caused by the loss of the skin’s immune function due to damage that comes from sun exposure and ultraviolet light.

The three most common types of skin cancer are:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and, if not detected early enough, it can spread throughout the body. A lifetime of sun exposure causes all types of skin cancer. Severe sunburn is often a factor in the development of melanoma. Although it’s too late to go back and erase the years you spent as a teenager on the beach in your bikini, you can still protect yourself now. And, if you’re lucky, your skin might be able to repair itself as long as you take the necessary protective measures now—and avoid further damage.

Even a seemingly “healthy” sun tan is skin damage. That’s why, when it comes to sun exposure, there is no “healthy.” Some women think that going to a tanning bed is a safer alternative than lying out in the sun. This isn’t true. Tanning beds have the same damaging effects on your skin as the sun. Both emit harmful ultraviolet rays, which are the leading cause of skin cancer and premature aging (especially wrinkles).

If you’re still concerned about looking pale, recent innovations in the world of sunless tanning have been very beneficial to the cosmetics industry. Because women across the nation are becoming more and more aware of the damaging effects of the sun, cosmetic companies are capitalizing on this and providing healthy alternatives to the suntan. That’s good news for you. If you think that tans in a bottle mean orange and streaky stains, think again. Try out some of the newer products to see which one works best with your skin, but you might just be surprised with these innovations. And if you don’t want to do it yourself, salons across the country are developing new “airbrush tanning” techniques that use an enzyme called DHA to apply an authentic, even tan across your whole body. These procedures are fairly expensive, and they are relatively new. That means that they haven’t been tested completely for other side effects, but they definitely don’t contain ultraviolet rays.

When you are choosing a sun protection lotion, pay attention to the SPF. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. SPF actually indicates how long the product will help protect you against the sun. So, an SPF 8 will offer the same amount of protection as an SPF 30, but the SPF 30 will protect your skin for longer. Also, SPF applies only to one type of ultraviolet ray, the UVB, which causes sunburn. Some products won’t offer any protection against UVA. So, you should find a “broad spectrum” sunscreen in order to get protection from both types of rays. If you’re active in the sun, swim or sweat a lot, your product will wear off easily and needs to be reapplied. When in doubt, wear a hat, and use an umbrella or seek out the shade.

Click below to read about related topics.

Introduction
Taking Care of Your Skin
Sun
Skin & Aging