Healthbytes - Skin awareness: Not just for summer


For many people, August signals the end of summer; especially when the kids start heading back to school. It also brings an end to many summertime outdoor activities like swimming. As a result, skin care and protection often gets moved to the back burner.

Throughout the summer, the skin care and sunscreen industries ramp up their marketing and you’ll see reminders at every retail outlet about the dangers of sun exposure and how to stay protected. But caring for your skin is not just a summer pastime. It should be a year-round priority.

Sun damage can occur any time of the year. If any part of your skin is exposed to the sun, even during the fall or winter months, you need to be generously applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more. This provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Apply it to any and all skin that will be exposed about 30 minutes before you go out in the sun, and re-apply about every two hours, even during cloudy days and winter months. It’s the most important thing you can do to help prevent premature aging and skin cancer.

In addition to sunscreen, you must be vigilant in performing self-exams of the skin. Taking the time to examine your skin regularly is the first line of defense against skin cancer and a number of other skin diseases. Self-exams should be done on a regular basis several times throughout the year, not just during the summer.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends keeping a record of the spots you find on your skin so you can track changes. The academy has a Body Mole Map that can be downloaded at www.aad.org, which can make recording spots and moles easier. They also recommend following specific guidelines to identify suspicious moles.

As the colder months approach, moisturizing becomes more important. You may have a moisturizer that works fine during the warm months, but during the winter you may need to find a different one. You may also need to moisturize more often. If you have a problem with dry skin, consult with your physician to find the correct moisturizer suited to your skin type.

For example, you may need a moisturizer that is oil-based rather than water-based. Hands need lots of moisturizing. The hands have fewer oil glands than most parts of the body and need added moisture, especially during cold, dry weather. Also moisturize your feet and don’t forget to exfoliate them periodically to remove dead skin. That will help the moisturizers work faster and deeper. When it comes to your face, don’t use harsh peels, masks or astringents during the colder months, which can strip vital oil from the skin.

Finally, as tempting as it is, don’t take too many long hot baths during the winter months. Hot baths feel great after being out in the cold, but the heat can actually break down the lipid barriers in the skin, which lead to a loss of moisture.

A little extra care can help keep your skin healthy and glowing from summer to winter. It can also help prevent a host of problems. Don’t hesitate to consult a physician if you notice any change in your skin.

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Dr. Dan Smith is a dermatologist and member of the JRMC Medical Staff who sees patients in his private practice, Daniel F. Smith, M.D., located at 1416 W. 43rd Ave. in Pine Bluff. He received his medical degree from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, and completed his residency at the University of South Florida- Tampa. Smith is certified by the American Board of Dermatology.