Your skin withstands a lot, after all, it’s your interface with the physical world. Not only is it subject to all your skin-care lotions and potions, it’s also the only organ that is constantly exposed to outside elements like humidity, heat, and air pollution. That would lead us to believe that the top layer of our skin is naturally pretty strong, which is right, but keeping it strong is actually a bit difficult.
Professor Reinhold Dauskardt, a bioengineer at Stanford University, studies the strength of the skin and has found that the top layer, the stratum corneum, has about half the thickness of wax paper, but is truly a remarkably good barrier. That is, when it isn’t being exposed to sunlight.
In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dauskardt and his colleagues exposed skin to the UVB equivalent of 12, 24, and 60 consecutive days of Florida sunlight and found that skin exposed to UV light breaks, cracks and chaps more easily. They also estimate that it only takes two days of direct sun for the skin’s top layer to start weakening.
So why does this happen? “UV can penetrate deep into the skin,” says Tinton Falls, NJ, dermatologist Glenn Kolansky MD. “And this causes the collagen in your skin to break down at a much higher rate than if you were just aging.” Under a microscope, UV radiation changes the structures of your skin, turning the once organized collagen into unorganized collagen, he says. Lipids become less cohesive and cells don’t stick together well and you are left with pigmentation, wrinkles and uneven texture.
New York dermatologist Rebecca Baxt, MD, says, “The best bet is sunscreen for protection, at least an SPF 30, and to reapply every two hours. Seek shade and wear a hat and protective clothing. Take care of your skin—you only get it once and it’s hard to repair once it’s damaged. Prevention is the best medicine!”
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