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Up Your Sun Savvy
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Ahh, summertime. The beach. The pool. Barbeques in the backyard. Picnics in the park. Time to get outside and soak up the sun. And it sure feels good. Absorbed by our bodies, sunlight enhances our moods, relaxes our minds and creates in us a feeling of freedom and release. It triggers biological rhythms that govern everything from body temperature to sleep schedules. Sun is also the ultimate aphrodisiac. Did you know that fertility levels actually increase in the summer months. That's why the pundits say: make hay while the sun shines.

It's well known that unwise sun exposure causes premature aging and leaves behind unsightly reminders like brown spots, wrinkles and sagging, all of which raise your risks of skin cancer. But you don't have to be a beach go-er or sunbather to feel the burn. You actually log about 80% of your sun damage in everyday life - just driving your car, running errands or walking to work.

Sun has an even darker side. Over time and in careless doses, it raises your risk of skin cancer. Melanoma is now the leading cancer among women ages 25 to 29. And it's the second most prevalent form of cancer - after breast cancer - among women 30 to 34. One in six Americans can now expect to get skin cancer in his or her lifetime. And more than one million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. Most result from sun exposure accumulated before age 18.

So how can you take advantage of the good side of sunlight without putting yourself at risk of the bad? The answer is broad-spectrum UV protection.

There are two types of damaging wavelengths. The short UVB rays that cause sunburn. And the longer UVA rays. These radiate down on us all day, every day, whenever natural light strikes our skin. They can reach you through clouds, smog and even glass - the reason people who drive a lot are more wrinkled on the left side of their faces.

Once UVA rays were believed benign but it's now known that these all-day rays are the big nasty. They make their way though skin's outer layer and penetrate deeper into the dermis paving the way for wrinkles by slowly breaking down elastin (skin's rubber band-like tissue that supports skin and gives it structure). Then to add insult to injury, they actually up the destructive effects of UVB rays.

Many sunscreens do a great job at blocking UVB rays. And people who use them think they're dodging danger. But by believing we're safe and staying out longer, we wind up getting even heftier doses of damaging UVA rays.

Exposure to the sun's damaging rays, car exhaust, ozone, pollution and other environmental hazards are known to cause oxidative stress and amplify free radical production. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause damage to the proteins and other molecules in our skin and interfere with our skin's natural inner defenses. If we can protect against oxidative damage, we can prevent some of the downstream negative effects of the environment. Antioxidants reduce cellular damage caused by free radicals.

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