Most of us know that sun exposure can damage our skin. However, there are other factors that contribute to skin aging we usually overlook — in some cases because they've only recently come to our attention.
While wearing sunscreen is still vital, there are additional measures we can take to protect skin from premature aging. Here’s a short list of the daily assaults on our skin we may not be aware of, and what we can do about them.
Heat stimulates the production of the enzyme that degrades collagen. It also interferes with the production of elastin, the skin protein that keeps skin soft and supple. The result may be solar elastosis, which looks like severe and deep wrinkling.
Consequences: Photoaging, hyperpigmentation, solar elastosis
Solution: Stay out of the heat, avoid exercising in full sun, avoid saunas, stay hydrated, and take lukewarm showers (not cold or super-hot).
2. Chemical sunscreens
Chemical sunscreens generate free radicals of their own upon exposure to UV. In some cases, they generate more free radicals than if you went out with no sunscreen at all. Additionally, many of the most popular conventional sunscreens have been cited as known endocrine disrupters.
Consequences: Sunburn, premature wrinkling, endocrine disruption
Solution: Be choosy about which sunscreens you use! Avoid brands that contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, octisalate and octocrylene. Instead opt for zinc oxide sunscreen, which protects your skin by creating a physical barrier between you and the sun rather than a chemical one.
3. Environmental pollution
This one isn't quite as within your control as the others, but environmental pollution can do a lot of damage to your skin. Soot in the air accumulates on your skin and the tiny particles generate free radicals, causing damage very similar to sun exposure.
Solution: Use sunscreen and a moisturizer by day, and cleanse well at night to remove surface grime.
4. City living
We know that water, sand and snow reflect the sun and increase risk of burning, but we're less aware of urban glare that comes from traffic jams, sidewalks and glass skyscrapers.
Consequences: Increased free radical damage, premature wrinkling
Solution: Wear sunscreen and hats; avoid exposure during peak hours (10AM — 4PM).
5. Topical treatments
Sure, that skin prescription cream might seem like it's clearing up your acne, but chances are it's making your dermis extremely sensitive.
Consequences: Increased susceptibility to sun, allergic reactions, allergic contact dermatitis, inflammation, accelerated aging
Solution: Avoid daytime use of topical preparations containing these ingredients: benzoyl peroxide, essential oils from citrus, bergamot, retinal palmitate, or glycolic acid. Also steer clear of antimicrobials that irritate skin, including phenoxyethanol, sodium benzoate, and parabens. To protect yourself, wear sunscreen.
6. Infrared radiation
We all know by now that ultraviolet rays (UVB and UVA) are big culprits in skin damage, but infrared (IR) radiation, which occurs naturally in sunlight, can often do deeper damage. While UV rays burn the outer layers (the dermis), the longer wavelengths of IR penetrate deeper into the skin, creating a greater potential for undetected damage.
Consequences: Skin inflammation, photoaging, hyperpigmentation, skin cancer
Solution: Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid exposure — any more than you can avoid exposure to visible light. Your best bet is to stock up on antioxidants! Look for astaxanthin (a potent UV-light protector), coenzyme Q10 (a known anti-ager), resveratrol (protective against ultraviolet radiation) and green tea.
7. Dark damage
Here's an unpleasant truth: sunlight continues to damage your skin, even when you're in the dark. Through a process called "dark damage," skin damage that is initiated by UV exposure, but affects cells in a different way, through a process called chemiexcitation. This happens later, after you've left the beach or UV source, and takes place in the absence of UV light.
Consequences: Hyperpigmentation, age spots, melanoma
Solution: As always, minimize your exposure to sunlight. Apply topical antioxidants — especially vitamins C and E — in the evening after a day in the sun.