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Skin Care for Every Season


by Barbara Benjamin, MD

Minnesota's seasons allow for a variety of fun outdoor activities. But the extremes can be extremely harmful to your skin. Changing temperatures, wide fluctuations in humidity and periods of intense sun can all cause skin problems for some people. Fortunately, there are several ways to keep your skin healthy.

Pale is the new tan
One of those harmful effects to your skin is skin cancer, which is on the rise for a number of reasons, says Barbara Benjamin, MD, Primary Care Skin Services, Park Nicollet Clinic--Bloomington.

"Tanning beds are being used more often, causing harmful, long-term effects to the skin," Dr. Benjamin says. "And evidence shows that people on vacation who experience periodic high-intensity ultraviolet exposure may actually be more harmed than when they experience it throughout the year." Dr. Benjamin has even seen patients go on tropical vacations and come back with sun-related skin cancers.

"It's important to remember that a tan is not healthy because it indicates the skin is damaged and it is trying to protect itself - pale is the new tan," Dr. Benjamin says. If you get tan when using sunscreen, find another sunscreen or cover up with clothing. Sunscreen must be applied liberally and often. And even sunscreen, while helpful, is not a substitute for clothing.

People may get up to 80 percent of their sun exposure before age 18, which is why protecting young skin is vital. "If you start protecting your skin early, you will preserve its health and prevent future problems. If you don't, you may end up spending much of your time with a dermatologist," says Dr. Benjamin, who focuses on detecting and treating skin conditions in her primary care practice.

With an emphasis on proactive skin care, and to further emphasize the importance of sun protection, many clinical care teams at Park Nicollet also provide educational services.

"Our patients expect us to make it as easy and convenient as possible for them to implement the preventive measures we recommend," says Dr. Benjamin. "One of the ways we do this is by providing clinician-recommended sun-protective items, including clothing and sunscreens, in our facilities for our patients."

Winter weather is war on our skin
You need to not only protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun during summer, but the harsh Minnesota winters as well. "Every winter, patients come in convinced they have a serious problem because they are uncontrollably scratching their skin, which can tear it and lead to infection," Dr. Benjamin says. "The majority of the time it is simply because their skin is really dry and has lost some of its elasticity." Dry skin is itchy skin. And those wonderful hot baths can make things worse by stripping skin of its natural oils.

Skin relief for all seasons
Thankfully, there is relief. Dr. Benjamin suggests the following to keep skin in top form through all four seasons:

• Shower or bathe in lukewarm water.
• Use mild soaps, such as Cetaphil® face and body wash. Cleansing with it leaves no residue and does not upset the skin's natural pH balance.
• Moisturize regularly to avoid dry, irritated skin. Fragrance-free cream moisturizers are preferred over lotions because they seal water into the skin and provide a barrier to the elements. "In younger individuals, facial moisturizer should be oil-free because it helps prevent the pores from becoming blocked," Dr. Benjamin adds.
• Use a sunscreen as part of your daily routine every day, not just when you anticipate being in the sun. Sun exposure adds up.

When to see a doctor
Here are several signs that something abnormal may be happening to the skin, and it's time to see your doctor:
• skin is not healing;
• bleeding or crusting skin that lasts for several weeks;
• raised or flat moles that change shape or color; a mole that differs in appearance significantly from other moles on the body;
• growths that continuously grow; and
• any prolonged itching.

A younger image
Neglecting to protect your skin not only may lead to skin cancer, but also can cause premature aging. Heredity, sun exposure and smoking are all responsible for skin problems, Dr. Benjamin says. The two we can control are sun exposure and smoking.
Skin that is neglected may sag and look leathery. A healthy alternative for a golden tan is the spray tan products offered at many tanning salons. But remember, these artificial tanners do not afford any protection from the sun; you still need to use sun block and protective clothing. If you protect and care for your skin early and consistently, you can be assured of younger-looking, healthier skin as you age.

Go to StayHealthyMN.com for more information.

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