In this blog I have stressed numerous times the importance of wearing your daily SPF to protect your skin from sun damage. UV light damages the elastin fibers in our skin. Elastin is what gives skin its tightness and ability to stretch and return to shape. Once these fibers are broken down, the skin becomes lax and wrinkly. This damage happens slowly over time, so when we are young and spend time in the sun, we see a “healthy glow” as a result. As the years go by, that “healthy glow” becomes saggy skin.

In addition to wearing SPF on your face every day, I recommend wearing sunglasses to protect the very delicate skin around the eyes from those harmful rays. There’s a lot more to the story though…

Let’s begin with a little primer on how our bodies make melanin, the compound that adds color to our skin. In the dermal layer of our skin, the one just beneath the thin, top layer (the epidermis), there’s a powerhouse of activity going on. It’s in the dermis that sweat and hair are produced through a network of nerves and blood vessels. In addition, this is where our melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) spring forth. These cells are stimulated by sunlight, in particular UV radiation. The origination of this process is an internal protection mechanism created by our bodies—adding pigment to the skin protects the skin from burning; the melanin is there to absorb light. This is why people native to places with more sun and warm temperatures have darker skin. Melanin is also the stuff that brown spots, freckles and patches are made of. Many of us, me included, fight these spots very hard and we do not want to encourage melanin production.

The plot thickens from there! The pituitary gland, a very small gland located behind your eyes and in front of your brain, is connected to the optic nerve. This tiny gland has a diverse and large purpose in our bodies, acting as the mastermind behind all of our hormones, including melanocyte-stimulating hormone. Aha! Here’s the connection: the pituitary is very sensitive to sunlight that comes in through the optic nerve, i.e. our eyes. When we do not wear sunglasses, our skin produces more melanin.

My takeaway here is that wearing SPF may not be enough protection for those of us looking to reduce the production of unwanted pigment in our skin. Always wear your SPF, preferably in the form of UVA/UVB/IR mineral sunscreen, but also wear your sunglasses at all times when in the sun.

When choosing sunglasses, be sure to get those with 100% UV protection. Larger frames are better—and stylish right now too! For extra glare protection you can choose polarized lenses. The color of your lenses and frames does not make a difference, so you can let your personal style be the guide here. Slip on those sunglasses and save your skin from unwanted pigment!

Click here to read Ginger Hodulik Downey’s book The Esthetician’s Guide to Outstanding Esthetics.

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