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Sun, Sea, and Your Skin

Sun_Sea_and_Your_Skin_0Care to know the best way to have flawless skin, a secret even more important than maintaining your health and instituting a daily skin cleansing routine? Here it is: hide from the sun, and never, ever immerse yourself in salt water. (So much for your dreams of being a pirate, eh?) Before all you sun worshippers and surfer girls break down and cry, let us hasten to say that your cases aren't entirely hopeless. As with everything else, the key is moderation; so at least to some extent, you can have your skin and heat it, too.

Here's the lowdown on sun and surf. Both of them can have severe and nasty effects on your skin, mostly because they can dry you out terribly; but that's not all they can do. Both sunlight and saltwater can cause environmental damage as well, the sun through solar radiation damage (sunburns and tans) and the sea through chemical damage, caused by excess salt. Both can impact your skin deeply, which can ruin your youthful appearance; and given enough time, both can cause skin cancers.

Let's start with sunlight first, since its effects are the more obvious. Very few of us are unaware of its dangers -- after all, who among us (with the possible exception of some of the more darkly pigmented) hasn't suffered a sunburn? A sunburn is a radiation burn; after all, the sun is little more than a massive, self-contained nuclear reactor. Burning is generally a response to the invisible ultraviolet radiation the sun emits. When your skin reddens and later peels, you're witnessing skin damage first hand. The same thing is true even if your skin simply darkens in response to the sun: a layer of skin cells has given up the ghost. Believe it or not, there's a biological reason for this, and one that may explain why the people who originate at or near the Equator tend to be darkly pigmented. Too much solar radiation is bad for your health, causing everything from genetic mutations to skin cancer, and darker pigmentation keeps it out. That's why many of us tan: a layer of skin is darkening and hardening, sacrificing itself to protect the lower layers of your epidermis -- not to mention the rest of you -- from damage.

Seawater, on the other hand, is a stew of water and chemicals (not to mention fish and whale poop), and most of those chemicals are various kinds of salts -- from the basic sodium chloride we call table salt to various nitrates, aluminum salts, and more. Salts are great if you want to dry something out, as the ancients discovered thousands of years ago, when they started using sea salt to preserve fish and other meats. Some of you might have heard the story about the well-preserved nine-year-old hot dog found in a landfill a few years back. It was preserved because the nitrate salts used in its manufacture dried it out. Now, consider the fact that your body is made out of meat, and you might see why seawater could do horrible things to your skin.

Short of avoiding sea and sun, an option not terribly reasonable or realistic, it's hard to entirely avoid the damage they can do to you. However, there are measures you can take to diminish their nastier effects. We know a good tan looks stunning, but please -- do you really want to look like a saddlebag when you're fifty? We think not. Limit your tanning, even the artificial kind, because when you tan you're deeply damaging your skin and inviting not just wrinkles and blemishes, but cancer too. If you do go out in the sun, wear a decent sun block of SPF 5 or higher, especially on your face. You'd also do well to wear a hat. A sun block with a moisturizing agent, like aloe vera or Vitamin E, is recommended, since the sun can also dry your skin as well as damage it. If you plan to swim, either reapply your sun block after being in the water, or wear waterproof sun block.

As for seawater damage, your best option is to rehydrate yourself after swimming in the sea. If you can, immediately wash off the seawater after you leave the ocean, because if the salt dries on you, it's likely to cause itching and irritation, which may lead to more damage. Otherwise, be sure to add an extra hydration step to your daily cleansing routine, especially if you have naturally dry skin. You'll definitely want to hydrate yourself on the interior as well, since both sun and sea salt are drying elements. Be sure to drink plenty of water (not just sodas, tea, or coffee) while you're at the beach, and make sure you drink more after you get home. If you overdo it, so what? It's better to tinkle than wrinkle.
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