Sun and altitude a bad combination for skin

Summer and the great outdoors will have you constantly dealing with the affects of sun and altitude on sensitive skin areas. The face, neck and arm areas are always the first to suffer from the dry, windy, high-desert climate here in Northern Nevada.

The higher the altitude, the more susceptible you become to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. This neutral, ultraviolet radiation enters the atmosphere and is partially absorbed by the dust and water particles in the air. So the higher you climb, the clearer the air and the more of those ultraviolet rays are available to be absorbed into your skin.

When you are young, (teenage and early 20s), the thought of maintaining and preventing skin damage is far from your mind. But skin specialists will tell you that that is the time to protect your wrinkle-free skin. Even at a young age, the repeated overexposure to the sun and its harsh conditions can age your skin prematurely, causing a wrinkled, leathery look and exposing yourself to the danger of skin cancer.

Altitude is not often thought of as extra stress on the skin. However, 30 minutes in full sun at Lake Tahoe is entirely different from spending that same 30 minutes in the sun at Lake Havasu. Anyone who has ever sunbathed at Lake Tahoe knows the dangers of overdoing it.

Most doctors in this area have treated numerous cases of high-altitude sunburn. The angle of the sun varies with the time of day and the season, so the distance the ultraviolet rays have to pass through the atmosphere will also vary.

Two-thirds of the active ultraviolet light hits the ground between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Because at this time there is less atmosphere between you and the sun, there are more of these ultraviolet light rays reaching your skin when you are on high ground than when you are at sea level.

Another point to remember, ultraviolet rays are so widely scattered that they come from all directions. Therefore, a hat or umbrella will only reduce the radiation intensity by half at most. Water, snow, sand and reflective material will reflect radiation. Water transmits most of it.

Ultraviolet radiation causes relaxation of the tiny blood vessels in the skin, which is what causes the redness of sunburn. Some of these skin cells are killed by the sun's rays, and the remaining skin cells divide rapidly to replace them. The repair process causes thickening of the skin then blistering results when fluids from the dilated blood vessels leaks under these skin layers.

Do yourself a favor this summer and confine your sunbathing to the least- intense times of the day. Use a high level of skin protection along with cover-up clothing. Be aware of reflection rays, especially if you do your sunbathing at a high altitude.

n Jerry Vance is owner of The Sweat Shop/Wet Sweat. She offers classes through Carson City Recreation and Aquatics Center and is a fitness instructor for the Senior Center.


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