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Published: Monday, 8/20/2012

10 ways to save your own skin

Some simple tips can make a difference

Bernadine Boyce, of Allentown, Pa., applies sunscreen to Bruno Barber, 5, of Atlantic City, as mom, Natalia Barber, watches in Atlantic City, N.J. Sun damage is the No. 1 threat to skin care. Bernadine Boyce, of Allentown, Pa., applies sunscreen to Bruno Barber, 5, of Atlantic City, as mom, Natalia Barber, watches in Atlantic City, N.J. Sun damage is the No. 1 threat to skin care.

If you watch TV, read magazines, or shop online, you know that companies spend a lot of money trying to convince you to buy their products.

Cosmetics and skin care are multi-billion dollar industries because of the successful marketing of expensive products said to improve the appearance and youthfulness of skin. Most of the products do little or nothing to justify their impact on your wallet. You, on the other hand, have far more ability to control the appearance of your skin.

With a small but highly effective "toolbox" of knowledge, good habits, and two inexpensive products, you can have the healthiest skin in your family.

It is true that basic skin type is inherited. Also, most people over time will acquire a few moles, skin tags, and scaly spots that are not dangerous and do not have to be treated. A small number of people may also have skin diseases or a high risk of a dangerous form of skin cancer. But the vast majority of undesirable adult skin conditions, such as most skin cancers, spotty pigmentation, and premature wrinkling, are preventable if you use the skin care toolbox:

1. Limit time in the sun. The No. 1 enemy of your skin is ultraviolet radiation, which comes from direct and indirect sunlight and artificial sources.

Ultraviolet causes skin thinning, wrinkling, brown spots, red blotches, and the permanent DNA damage that leads to skin cancers. Physicians see the most skin cancers in fair-skinned people, who have the least natural protection against sunlight.

Prolonged or repeated exposure to reflected sunlight from water or snow can be just as damaging as direct rays.

More ultraviolet radiation is reaching the earth's surface than was the case for older generations, which is one reason why the incidence of skin cancer is rising.

2. Avoid tanning booths. All forms of ultraviolet radiation cause skin damage.

3. Wear sunscreen. Our children are the first generation to have lifelong access to broad spectrum sunscreens. Those who use them will have better skin than their parents did.

4. Wear a hat. Scalps (especially male), noses, and ears are common skin cancer sites that can necessitate complex treatments. Unfortunately, many people forget to put sunscreen on these areas.

5. Don't smoke. Smokers get "smoker's skin," which is prematurely aged and has a grayish tinge. If you smoke and sun, you will add 10 years to your appearance.

6. Moisturize. Skin is damaged by sun, wind, and cold. Moisturizers help minimize skin cell dehydration.

7. Eat well. This seems obvious, but healthy skin is the product of a well-balanced diet. Skin continuously tries to renew and repair itself and always needs a full complement of nutrients to do so properly.

8. Reduce stress. This is easier said than done, but stress causes facial muscle hyperactivity and can accentuate furrows and wrinkling. Simple stress reducers include enough sleep and any form of exercise.

9. Treat acne early. Acne is a common and often challenging condition that affects teens and adults. Severe longstanding acne can lead to skin changes that are difficult to treat.

10. Get an annual complete skin assessment, especially if you have any of the following risk factors:

● Fair skin

● History of multiple sunburns, one severe sunburn, or any burn in a tanning booth

● Personal or family history of skin cancer

● Prolonged and frequent sun exposure during your childhood, occupation, or leisure time -- i.e. swimmers, golfers, farmers, boaters, gardeners

● Prevention of skin damage is preferable and more cost-effective than treatment of its consequences, especially skin cancer.

Although certain early skin cancers can be treated by a variety of methods, many skin cancers require surgery. Plastic surgeons typically can remove a skin cancer and reconstruct the resulting defect in one short outpatient procedure using a local anesthetic and often without the need for subsequent appointments.

Dr. Bethanne Snodrass is a plastic surgeon at Toledo Clinic.

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