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Seasonal Skin Care, by Stephanie Cotell, MD

This article was originally published in the July, 2017 issue of White Fence Living Magazine.

As the long days of summer fade, it is still important to be mindful of how our skin is responsive to the seasons’ changing conditions.  Even in autumn, when the sun sets earlier each day and we transition to cooler temperatures, we should continue to practice healthy interventions to prevent overexposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays. Don’t let the cooler temperatures fool you; without  proper sun protection, our skin can suffer damage, resulting in long term effects, such as wrinkles, excess freckling and pigmentation, rough and leathery skin, and most significantly, skin cancer.  Skin is our bodies largest organ, and we need to protect ‘the skin we are in’.  We actually have a great deal of control over the state of our skin; protect and care for your skin now and you will reap the benefits throughout your lifetime.

Minimizing sun exposure  doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the many outdoor opportunities that New Albany has to offer, such as golfing, strolls along neighborhood walking paths and a dip in a swimming pool. These activities can play an important role in a healthy lifestyle. We just need to be wise about how we spend our time in the sun and incorporate  sun protective strategies into our daily routine. Think of sun protection like oral hygiene;  we don’t brush our teeth only before a big date, just like we shouldn’t use sunscreen only when we go to the pool!

Sun protection includes applying sunscreen, limiting your time in the sun, wearing accessories, such as sunglasses and a broad rimmed hat, and wearing sun protective clothing. My two boys always knew the routine when we would go out. As youngsters, they would line up at the door  to let me apply their sun screen and distribute their hats. Tubes or spray bottles of sunscreen, for touchups, would come out during extended periods in the sun or while swimming at the club. Picture one happy sun-protected family! Now in their late teens, my boys don’t need me to remind them that SPF is their best friend; they lather up on their own and re-apply without me asking, or so they tell me…

Even during the cooler months, or for that matter, for all 365 days of the year, dermatologists recommend that a facial moisturizer with SPF be worn on the face and neck. These areas are exposed every single day and ultraviolet rays (UV rays) travel through car windows and through clouds. A sunscreen should have  a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and block UVA and UVB. Physical sunblocks, also known as chemical free sunblocks, contain mineral ingredients, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and  work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays away from the skin. They  work immediately and are my personal favorites.

Dermatologists like to say ‘Pale is the new tan.”  You will notice that even movie stars have moved away from the orange and bronze glow of spray tans that they used to sport on the red carpet.  But, If you prefer a tan appearance,  keep in mind that the only safe tan comes from a bottle. The main ingredient in self-tanners is dihydroxyacetone (DHA), which is safe for the skin. Remember, though, sunscreens still need to be applied even if you use a self-tanning application as they do not contain SPF.

While the cumulative effects of sun exposure, as well as the effects of blistering sunburns may result in skin cancer, the good news is that most skin cancer is curable if detected and treated early. See a dermatologist, experts in skin hair and nails, yearly for a skin cancer screening as skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The cosmetic appearance of sun damage can be reversed via a variety of treatments, such as chemical peels, laser, microneedling and medical grade cosmeceutical or prescription products recommended by a board certified dermatologist.

As the temperatures go down, and we turn on the heat in our homes, a change in humidity occurs and our skin may become dry and itchy or cracked. While dry skin isn’t life threatening, it can be uncomfortable, and is a common condition that brings patients into the office  throughout the winter.

In fact, the most common cause of itchy skin is dry skin.  This ‘winter skin’ may be preventable with a few steps that should become habitual.  It may be a surprise that one of the most common things to damage our protective skin barrier  is those long hot showers that feel so good in winter! Consider limiting your  shower to 10 minutes or less and keeping the temperature lukewarm. Apply a moisturizing cream immediately after bathing (the ‘3 minute rule’.)  Damp skin helps the cream penetrate into the skin and lock in moisture. If a moisturizing cream  is not applied immediately,  the moisture from your shower will evaporate and you will be dryer than when you stepped into the shower! Think about a muddy river bank on a hot, sunny day. When the water evaporates, dry cracked surfaces appear. Use thicker, cream moisturizers rather than thinner lotions. I also recommend soap free cleansers be used liberally, instead of deodorant soaps, which are best saved for the groin and armpits. A humidifier is another effective way to increase moisture in your home environment if you experience dry skin or dry lips.

Other tips that may help prevent dry or itchy skin are avoidance of scented bubble baths, fragranced moisturizers, harsh deodorant soaps hot tubs and fragrance in laundry detergents or fabric softeners.  Wool clothing may irritate some individuals as well.

As a dermatologist I have always been fascinated with how skin functions and reactions to its environment. Changes in the skin can reveal a lot about your health. Rashes, hives, and itching may be a manifestation of an allergic reaction, a skin infection, or an autoimmune disease. A changing mole may be a sign of skin cancer. The skin is very responsive to its environment; think goosebumps, chills, and itchiness. Did you know that skin accounts for roughly 15% of our body weight? Skin also acts as your body’s thermostat. You can sweat up to a quart of fluid a day to cool your body, and your pores become smaller in the cold to help retain heat.. And this may be the most surprising of all: your body creates a new layer of skin every 28 days.

Renée Rouleau once said: “ Be good to your skin. You’ll wear it every day for the rest of your life.”



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