There’s no question, the sun’s warmth feels pleasing. But deep down, the harmful effects of solar radiation on our skin range from premature aging to potentially lethal cancer. Instead of living in the dark, avoiding the serious risks associated with sun exposure begins with knowledge.
If the way you look matters to you, says Joel DeKoven, a dermatologist at Sunnybrook Health Science Centre in Toronto, you should know that up to 90 per cent of the skin damage we attribute to aging is entirely preventable.
In fact, it is not aging at all, but photoaging – preventable damage caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun and artificial tanning sources.
Prevention begins with awareness. “People often believe that sun damage occurs only when they go on vacation,” says Dr. Vince Bertucci, a dermatologist in Woodbridge, Ontario. “The reality is that it also occurs when you’re out in your backyard or just driving your car. You don’t need to be lying on the beach.”
To see the results of photoaging, advises Dr. Bertucci, compare the quality of the skin in the central upper chest area, which is almost constantly exposed except in the winter months, to skin in an area that is normally covered, such as on the upper, inner arm. “You can see how much sun damage has accumulated on a day-to-day basis over the years – perhaps without even trying to get a tan.”
Photoaging is measurable in people in their teens, and begins to manifest as wrinkles and discolouration as early as the twenties. But looking up to 90 per cent younger is easy: “Whether you’re walking the dog or just going out to do your grocery shopping, wearing protective clothing and a sunscreen with a broad-spectrum SPF makes a world of difference,” says Dr. Bertucci.
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