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Publix GreenWise Market Magazine - July 2007

Skin Deep

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Skin DeepNurture and protect your outer layer with sunscreen, regular checks, and even the right foods.

Summer is prime time to pamper your skin. It's your body's largest organ and critical for shielding your body from germs, heat, cold, and sunlight. It also sends messages to your brain about touch, pressure, pain, and temperature. As your barrier against the outside world, this surprisingly thin membrane takes plenty of abuse, so it deserves a little TLC. Here's how to keep your hardworking skin healthy and beautiful this summer.

One of the keys to keeping your skin healthy is becoming more aware of how it changes with sun exposure and age.

"Almost everyone believes that sunburns are bad, but some people still think that getting a base tan is beneficial," says Lawrence Green, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. The truth is, tanning is a sign of skin damage that occurs when the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays penetrate the skin, causing it to protect itself by making more pigment.

The sun's UV rays come in two types, called UVA and UVB, both of which cause sunburns, suntans, and skin damage. The sun damage you get today can lead to "photoaging" in the future. UV exposure breaks down collagen, the support structure for the skin, and attacks elastin, the substance that enables skin to snap back into place after stretching. Over the years, photoaging causes skin to become leathery, wrinkly, and saggy. Sun damage also can lead to freckles, skin blotches, spider veins on the face, and skin cancer. In fact, UV radiation is the primary cause of the more than 1 million cases of nonmelanoma skin cancer diagnosed each year.

Some skin changes are just a normal part of getting older. With age, even the best-cared-for skin thins and becomes somewhat dryer. But photoaging changes are a sure sign the sun has not been kind to your skin through the years. You can't ask for a redo on skin damage done long ago, but you can keep from compounding the problem by adopting healthier sun habits right now.

UV rays are always present, but they're more intense in the summer and in places closer to the equator. Florida, for example, gets 150 percent more UV radiation than Maine. To protect your skin, avoid deliberate tanning, either outdoors or in a tanning booth. For a sunless glow, use a self-tanning product instead. When outside during the day, seek the shade if you can, wear protective clothing, and slather on sunscreen generously. Then reapply it every two hours, or after swimming or sweating heavily. If you or your children are outside a lot, consider a natural, alcohol-free sunscreen, which may be gentler to your skin. You can find a natural sunscreen from JASON Natural Products at your neighborhood Publix.

Don't save sunscreen for the beach. Wear it anytime your skin is exposed to sunlight - even when you're driving. A preliminary study presented at this year's annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology found a link between time spent driving and the risk of left-sided skin cancer. Why just the side and not the front of the face? Most car windshields are made of laminated glass that filters both UVB and most UVA rays, but the side windows usually are made of nonlaminated glass that does nothing to block UVA. Tinting these windows also may help.

"I would suggest following the Skin Cancer Foundation's guidelines: Choose a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or above that's also broad spectrum [protective against both UVA and UVB]," says Kerry Hanson, Ph.D., a chemist who studies sunscreens at the University of California, Riverside. Her research has shown that sunscreens with added antioxidants can reduce the generation of free radicals in the skin. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can damage DNA, create wrinkles and age spots, and increase skin cancer risk. "Many sunscreens contain antioxidants now," Hanson says. "You just have to look at the label to see if they are there."

Other scientists are studying the possibility that eating specific foods or taking certain supplements might help protect against sun damage. Santosh Katiyar, Ph.D., associate professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has identified several promising compounds, including the polyphenols found in green tea, proanthocyanidins in grape seeds, resveratrol (found in grape skins, peanuts, red wine, and mulberries), and curcumin (see "Eat Your Curry").

When detected early, skin cancer has a 95 percent cure rate, so it's vital to seek help promptly for any suspicious skin changes. Experts recommend performing regular skin self-exams. Look for new skin growths or changes in the size, color, shape, or texture of a mark on your skin. These are just some of the signals to watch for:
  • A mole that changes shape, begins to bleed, or itches
  • An age spot that enlarges, flattens, darkens, and has an irregular border
  • A sore or bruise that won't heal
  • Shiny or scaly pink spots
  • A translucent, pearl-shaped growth
  • A brown or black streak under a nail.
Every month, closely examine your skin. Remove all your clothes and stand in front of a mirror. Check your entire body, including your sides and under your arms. Use a handheld mirror to examine the back of your neck, scalp, back, and buttocks. Finally, sit down and look at the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes, and your soles.

Some doctors also recommend getting regular skin cancer screenings by a dermatologist. "Everyone needs a baseline skin exam by age 50 at the latest," Green says. "If you have a family history of skin cancer, a history of blistering sunburns, or a lot of moles on your body, then you should be evaluated at an earlier age." Ask the doctor how often you need to return for routine skin checks after that.

Regular skin self-exams might also spot other health problems. For example, a sore that doesn't heal could be skin cancer, but it also might be a sign of diabetes or circulatory problems. Likewise, severe itching could be caused by a garden-variety skin inflammation, or it could be a symptom of diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or a kidney or liver condition.

It pays to pay attention to your skin. The rest of your body will thank you.

LEARN MORE: For year-round tips on how to protect your skin, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation at

Eat Your Curry
Curcumin, a component of curry powder and turmeric, may help in the fight against skin cancer, according to preliminary research.

"In India, curcumin has been known for its medicinal values since ancient times," says Santosh Katiyar, Ph.D., associate professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Turmeric is sold as a spice and also is available in supplements.

In one study, researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center tested curcumin on melanoma cells in the laboratory.

They found that curcumin blocked a key biological pathway needed for the development of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. A clinical trial is now underway at M.D. Anderson studying curcumin's affect on patients with multiple myeloma.

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