Students navigate a world filled with pimples, sunburn and skincare

University medical professionals suggest skincare for college-aged students, reveal how to care for acne and protect skin from ultraviolet radiation

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With the wide variety of products available for skincare, it can be difficult to determine which products work best for one's skin. 

Ariana Gueranmayeh | Cavalier Daily

Skincare is something that is a part of most people’s daily routine, but it can be a complicated subject. There is a copious number of skincare brands, each with their own suggestions and strategies, and dozens of options line grocery store shelves. With all of this information swirling around, students may find it hard to decide the best method to keep their skin healthy.

A person’s skincare routine can become complicated and may even result in detrimental effects if a person does not know the proper way to care for their skin. As a result, it is important to know how the sun, acne and facial cleansing affect skin health. 

Carrying out a skincare routine is the most important ingredient for maintaining skin health. A person’s skincare needs depends on the specific conditions of their skin, so someone may have to change their skincare routine and concentrations of products to best fit their skin’s needs. One concern that spans all skin types, however, is exposure to the sun.

Ultraviolet radiation is a concern for college students both in the short and long run. While many people may know that ultraviolet radiation causes sunburns, few may know that exposure to ultraviolet radiation can also have effects such as premature aging and melanoma, a form of skin cancer. 

"General recommendations, which I think certainly apply to college-age students, is to be careful with ultraviolet radiation exposure and that includes both the sun and tanning beds,” said Mark Russell, vice chair of the department of dermatology and director of Mohs and dermatologic surgery in the University Health System. "Both have been identified as carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents." 

Sunscreen is an important part of a daily skincare routine to help combat the negative consequences of exposure to ultraviolet radiation. 

“Daily use of sunscreen and/or sun-protective clothing should be an important aspect of any skincare routine, as we are all subject to the potential adverse effects of ultraviolet — UV — radiation, regardless of skin color,” said Keith Pillow, a physician assistant in the University Health System’s dermatology department.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreen labeled “broad-spectrum” is the most effective protection since it protects against both UVA rays that prematurely age and UVB rays that cause sunburn. In addition, a higher sun protection factor does not imply longer-lasting effects. Sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 is recommended, though sunscreen with SPF of 50 slightly increases UV protection but still lasts the same amount of time. No sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun’s rays. 

“The best type of sunscreen is the one you will use again and again,” according to the AAD. 

In choosing the ideal sunscreen, it is important for people to consider their skin type. For dry skin, dermatologists recommended sunscreen combined with moisturizers. For sensitive skin, physical or mineral sunscreen — which includes ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide to protect one’s skin — would be the best option. For oily skin, non-comedogenic — meaning the product does not block pores — sunscreen is recommended. 

Another common skin condition that many college-aged students experience is acne. According to the AAD, 85 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 experience some form of acne. Although most people in that age bracket will have some type of acne, there are certain warning signs to look out for.

"If your acne is flaring to the point where you're getting large lesions or painful cysts, it's time to see a physician because that form of acne can lead to permanent scarring," Russell said. 

A physician may be able to prescribe medications of greater strength than what would otherwise be available over the counter. Additionally, a dermatologist can offer recommendations tailored to a person's skin specific concerns, including any acne issues they may have.

If an individual is suffering from acne, there are several ways to approach treatment. Often, it depends on which type of acne the individual is experiencing. Pillow recommends using Differin Gel for comedonal, or non-inflammatory, acne such as whiteheads — closed, clogged skin pores — and blackheads — open, clogged skin pores. 

The gel is applied once a day before going to sleep. Differin can be purchased over the counter at a store, online or with a prescription depending on the strength level. However, it may worsen acne or cause skin irritation and dryness during the first few weeks of treatment or skin.

“Should significant dryness, irritation and/or flaking occur, I recommend that patients begin applying Differin every other or every third night, increasing the frequency slowly as tolerance improves,” Pillow said. “Fine skin flaking can be gently removed with a washcloth while bathing, if necessary. Applying Differin at least 20 minutes after washing and drying the face can be helpful in reducing the above-mentioned side effects.” 

To avoid increasing irritation, Pillow recommended stopping other over-the-counter products. 

“Use of other over-the-counter products, such as salicylic acid, harsh soaps, toners and/or astringents should be avoided while using Differin, as concomitant use increases the likelihood and severity of dryness and irritation,” Pillow said. 

For individuals affected by inflammatory acne, medications containing benzoyl peroxide may prove helpful. 

“For patients with inflammatory acne — red bumps and pustules — I always recommend PanOxyl, which is 10 percent benzoyl peroxide,” Pillow said. “Benzoyl peroxide has both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. 

To minimize significant irritation or dryness, Pillow recommends that these medications be used once daily. 

“I typically recommend that PanOxyl be used as a face and/or body wash once daily in the morning, giving patients the option to reduce the frequency of use should significant dryness [or] irritation occur,” Pillow said. “Lesser concentrations can also be tried should an individual not be able to tolerate the 10 percent formulation. It should be noted that benzoyl peroxide can cause bleaching of the hair, towels, bedding and/or clothing.”

Deciding which skincare product to use can be complicated. If struggling to decide which product to use, it is best to visit a dermatologist to learn more about skincare and which treatment option works best. When treating skin for acne, it is important to consider how the treatment may affect one’s skin. 

"Many over-the-counter topical agents can overly dry your skin, prompting a need to use topical moisturizers to compensate," Russell said. "Some moisturizers can occlude the pores and lead to a flare of acne." 

People may initially look for different things in a skincare product. In addition to the product’s ingredients, its manufacturing, expense and any recommendations made by friends, family or online sources often influence one’s opinion. 

“[I look at the] ingredients, dyes, how much salicylic acid that they put in the product and if the product is more natural,” first-year College student Melanie Huff said. “Normally, I ask a friend what they use.”

Skincare can be a complicated process, but an important part of any skincare is establishing a routine. Often, these routines can be made complicated, but they do not have to be, according to Pillow.

“Keep it simple,” Pillow said. “Find a gentle cleanser and daily moisturizer that you like and stick with it. I often tell patients to focus on applying their daily moisturizer nightly after bathing — that way they are using it at the same time everyday — and it becomes part of their daily routine.”

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