When you think about protecting your skin from the sun, what comes first to mind? Your face? Your neck? What about your hands?
Unless you always wear gloves, your hands receive a tremendous amount of sun exposure over time. And about 90 percent of the visible skin changes attributed to aging - which appear on your hands as wrinkles, brown spots and leathery skin - are caused by the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
The majority of basal and squamous cell carcinomas (BCCs and SCCs) - the main nonmelanoma skin cancers, adding up to over a million malignancies a year - are also caused by UV exposure. According to Neil Sadick, MD, founder of Sadick Dermatology and Research Group and a dermatologist in private practice in New York City and Great Neck, New York, actinic keratoses (the most common skin precancers) and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common lesions on the hands.
Treat Them Right
When people think of hand care they usually think about moisturizer. This is because the hands are prone to dryness, due to the skin's thinness and small number of oil glands. This tendency is exacerbated by hand washing. Although common moisturizers temporarily relieve parched skin, they do nothing to prevent sun damage. So instead of just slathering on lotion or cream, use a moisturizing sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and some combination of the following UVA-filtering ingredients: stabilized avobenzone, ecamsule (a.k.a. MexorylTM), oxybenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
An effective moisturizing sunscreen will also contain emollients, like lanolin, which coat the skin for smoothness, and humectants such as glycerins, which attract and bind with moisture to keep skin hydrated. Some sunscreens even contain anti-aging ingredients: "I like products with lactic acid [an AHA, or alpha hydroxy acid], available both over-the-counter and via prescription," says Dr. Sadick. He also recommends sunscreens containing antioxidants (such as vitamin C or E), molecules that help prevent cell damage caused by substances called free radicals produced by oxidation reactions in the body. To ensure you're getting adequate amounts of any anti-aging component, make sure it appears near the top of the product's ingredient list.
Apply and Repeat
When applying sunscreen, use enough "to cover the entire surface of the hands," Sadick advises. And don't neglect your nails: "The tissue under the nail plate is metabolically active and could be susceptible to melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) and squamous cell carcinomas," Dr. Sadick explains. Frequent reapplication may be necessary, since hand washing will remove any sunscreen you've applied. Follow these tips and our Prevention Guidelines to keep your hands healthy and looking their best.