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Seminar on May 1 Offers Tips for Enhancing Your Skin's Health

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 to them.”

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 wide-brimmed hats
  • 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 and click on the link for “Events” at the top of the page. If you need help finding a physician, visit and click on “Find Your Physician.”