Your skin is the largest organ of your body, performing a number of vital
functions to maintain your overall health. Beyond protecting your internal
organs from injury, your skin helps regulate your body temperature, serves
as a barrier to water loss, and defends the body from toxins, bacteria,
and other harmful particles. Because your skin plays such an important
role in protecting your body, it makes sense that you should keep your
skin as healthy as you can.
“The number one thing you can do to keep your skin healthy is to
protect yourself from the harmful effects of sun exposure,” says
Tam Nguyen, MD, a physician at the Nakamura Clinic in Union City who is
board-certified in both family medicine and aesthetic medicine. One of
Dr. Nguyen’s areas of expertise is skin care.
“The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause wrinkles, age spots
and other skin problems, including an increased risk for skin cancer,”
he explains. “For optimum sun protection, use a ‘full-spectrum’
sunscreen that protects against the UVA1 and UVA2 rays that cause drying
and wrinkling, as well as against the UVB rays that cause skin damage
and cancer. A sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 gives
you up to 97 percent protection. Sunscreen with a higher SPF doesn’t
really add much benefit, and it usually costs quite a bit more and is
thicker to apply.”
To help people learn more about skin health, Dr. Nguyen will be conducting
a special Health & Wellness seminar on Tuesday, May 17, from 1 to
3 p.m. The seminar will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, MD, Auditorium
in the Washington West Building located at 2500 Mowry Ave. in Fremont.
“There are two basic types of sunscreens,” Dr. Nguyen says.
“Organic chemical sunscreens filter or absorb the sun’s rays.
Two of the best chemicals in such sunscreens are oxybenzone and avobenzone.
Physical-block sunscreens made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide actually
block the sun’s rays, so they provide better protection than chemical
sunscreens. The metal in these physical-block sunscreens may make the
skin appear ‘whitish’ – think of the typical beach lifeguard
with a white nose – but some of these sunscreens now have a tint
Dr. Nguyen recommends reapplying sunscreen at least every four hours when
you are in the sun.
“There really is no such thing as ‘waterproof’ sunscreen,”
he adds. “There are some sunscreens that are ‘water-resistant,’
but you still should reapply more sunscreen after being in the water.
The key is to apply a sufficient amount, and to spread it evenly over
your skin. Sunscreen sprays usually don’t go on as evenly as creams.”
Tanning beds are no safer than direct sun exposure, according to the American
Academy of Dermatology (AAD). The AAD has strongly opposed the use of
tanning beds, noting that the use of tanning beds or sunlamps dramatically
increases the risk for skin cancers, including melanoma. The amount of
UV radiation produced during indoor tanning is similar to the sun, and
in some cases might be stronger.
“People generally use tanning beds to ‘look good’ without
thinking about the risk for skin cancer,” notes Dr. Nguyen. “A
safer alternative would be to use self-tanning sprays or creams.”
Sunless tanning lotions and sprays interact with proteins in the skin to
produce a tan that gradually fades. Recent technological advances have
resulted in longer-lasting formulations and more realistic looking results,
as opposed to the orange hue of previous generations of self-tanners.
“It’s important to remember that the color produced by a self-tanner
does not provide sun protection for your skin,” says Dr. Nguyen.
“You still need to generously apply a water-resistant sunscreen
with an SPF of 30 that provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.”
Other suggestions from Dr. Nguyen for avoiding harmful sun exposure include:
- Wear protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts, long pants and
- Consider using laundry additives that give clothing a layer of UV protection
or wear special sun-protective clothing that is designed to block UV rays
- Avoid being out in the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s
rays are the strongest
- Use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide sun barriers for infants and small children
for the best protection
In addition to avoiding the sun’s harmful rays, it is important to
use moisturizers to help maintain the skin’s protective barrier.
“If your skin is dry, it can crack and peel, interrupting the skin
barrier,” Dr. Nguyen explains. “A fragrance-free moisturizer
is best, especially for children. Fragrances in moisturizers can be alcohol-based,
and that might cause skin irritations. For daily use, consider applying
a moisturizer that also contains sunscreen ingredients.”
Smoking is another likely cause of damage to your skin, according to Dr.
Nguyen. It makes your skin look older and contributes to wrinkles. It
also damages collagen and elastin, the fibers that help maintain skin’s
strength and elasticity. Smoking also narrows the blood vessels in the
outer layers of the skin, decreasing blood flow and depriving the skin
of oxygen and important nutrients.
“The old ‘Marlboro Man’ look is not at all attractive,”
he says. “If you smoke, the best way to protect your skin is to
quit. If you need help to stop smoking, ask your doctor about stop-smoking
programs and treatments that might be useful.”
At the seminar on May 17, Dr. Nguyen also will discuss various common skin
problems such as acne, eczema and allergic dermatitis. In addition, he
will explain various cosmetic treatments, including topical treatments
with tretinoin for acne and wrinkles, Botox and hyaluronic acid injections,
and chemical peels. He will devote a significant portion of the seminar
to explaining the various forms of skin cancer and how to detect skin cancer.
“There are three basic types of skin cancer,” he notes. “Basal
cell carcinoma is the most common type and the least dangerous, as it
rarely metastasizes. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common
skin cancer, and it can grow deep into the skin and cause damage and disfigurement.
Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent this and stop squamous cell
carcinoma from spreading to other areas. Melanoma is the deadliest form
of skin cancer. It frequently develops in a mole or appears as a new dark
spot on the skin. Early diagnosis and treatment of melanoma are very important.”
Dr. Nguyen stresses that people should examine themselves for the “ABCDE”
signs that a mole or pigmented spot might be melanoma:
- A = Asymmetric – One half of the mole or spot is not shaped the same
as the other.
- B = Border – The mole or spot has a jagged, irregular or poorly defined border.
- C = Color – The color of the mole or spot varies from one area to
another; it has shades of tan, brown or black, or is sometimes white,
red or blue.
- D = Diameter – Melanomas are usually larger than the size of a pencil
eraser when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.
- E = Evolving – A mole or skin lesion looks different from the rest
or is changing in size, shape or color.
“Anyone who has a mole or pigmented spot that exhibits any of these
ABCDE factors should see a doctor for a thorough evaluation,” he
says. “Although people with fair skin are more at risk, anyone can
get skin cancer, regardless of their skin color. Studies estimate that
one in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime – it
is the most common of all cancers. The good news is, when it is caught
early, skin cancer is highly treatable.”
To register for the seminar on May 17, visit www.whhs.com and click on
the link for “Events” at the top of the page. If you need
help finding a physician, visit www.whhs.com and click on “Find