Sunscreen and Aging

With the summer vacation season upon us, a local dermatologist of note has a tip for people who spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun, a tip that could help keep them look -younger- longer. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Americans spend billions of dollars a year on expensive cosmetics and skin preparations trying to keep themselves looking young, but Baylor College of Medicine's Dermatology Department Chairman John Wolf says no one really has to go to all that trouble and expense. Wolf says sunscreen is the best anti-aging product on the market -- and it's cheaper than cosmetics.

"There are three causes of aging of the skin. One would be the inevitable aging that takes place in every cell in our body. The second would be heredity. Not everybody ages at the same pace, but then finally environmental factors, and with regard to the skin, the sun is a major environmental factor."

Wolf says no one can change their heredity, and the natural aging process can't be stopped, but it can be slowed down, by limiting exposure to sunlight that makes skin look wrinkled and old. He says he tells his patients a sunscreen with a high SPF number does a better job of keeping skin smooth, supple and youthful looking than just about anything else.

"I tell them sure we'll go ahead and talk about lasers, and we'll talk about Botox, and we'll talk about some of the new creams that can be prescribed, but the two most important things that you can do are wear a sunscreen every day and use a moisturizer."

Wolf says there's nothing magic or miraculous about sunscreen, and it doesn't provide complete protection from the sun's dangerous rays. But it does provide significant protection -- the higher the SPF number the better -- and that's why he recommends people use a sunscreen all the time -- not just on weekends at the beach or poolside.

"Studies have shown that 70 percent of the sunlight damage that occurs in one's lifetime occurs during average every day activities. So wear a sunscreen every day."

Dr. Wolf says convincing young people, especially young girls, of the dangers of tanning, outdoors and indoors in tanning salons, is a losing battle, because despite all their efforts, tanning is a national pastime, and use of tanning beds is increasing. He says at some point in the future, many of today's young women will be coming to him for treatment of skin problems they could have avoided if they'd just listened when they were young.

"So yeah, we shake our heads and say when will they ever learn?"

Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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