We have heard the cliché countless times, "Aged like a fine wine." But what does that really mean? What makes a wine so fine (aside from my rhyming ability)? As with many things, success is achieved through collaboration of multiple factors to produce a better end product. The same principle applies to winemaking. The creation of a fine wine rests upon factors including the varietal of grapes used, the light, temperature and soil conditions affecting the grapes and vines respectively, the length of the fermentation process and yes, you guessed it (this is a dermatology post after all) the skin. Wine grapes, compared to table grapes, have a thicker skin; a desirable quality as the skin imparts the aroma to wine. Grape skin also contain tannins which produce the color of the wine. These tannins found in the skin help to preserve the wine for a longer period. Recently, it has been found that the skin of black grapes (used to make red wine, a personal favorite) contain a chemical called resveratrol; which is what provides the cardio and chemo-protective health benefits of red wine.
For those of you who love wine, these tidbits are good fodder to keep drinking, yes? Salut! But the point of all this information is not really about wine of course. It's about skin. Your skin. Like the creation of a fine wine, the health of your skin is a significant contributing factor to the end product of your overall well-being.
Your skin is the largest organ of your body. As such, it is constantly exposed to the elements just like wine grapes, and light, in the form of UV-rays have a significant impact on the quality and appearance of your skin and your health. With regards to appearance, prolonged exposure to UV-radiation directly affects the color and texture of your skin. The acute changes may be a sunburn, followed by a tanned appearance. But what about the chronic changes? Those brown spots on your arms and hands that folks refer to as "liver spots" or "age spots" are in actuality the manifestations of chronic sun exposure and resultant sun-damage. They are irreversible without external manipulation (ie medication and laser/light energy sources) and even then cannot restore your skin to it’s original state.
For a grape, dried by the sun, the texture and quality of the skin transforms to a wrinkled, flaccid and shriveled form which we call a raisin. Our skin is very similar to the grape. Premature wrinkling, loss of elasticity and leathery feel to the skin (think Magda from "There's something about Mary") are direct by-products of extensive sun-exposure. So which would you rather be, a grape or a raisin? In a society where people are paying a premium for a youthful appearance with products like botox, dermal fillers and plastic surgery, why not save money and be pro-active: protect your skin from the sun everyday!
With regards to health, we know that the sun is vital for our well being and it’s role in production of vitamin D which affects every cell of our body. I am not denying this, nor I am suggesting you become a hermit. That said, to reap the benefits of the sun one only requires controlled, short exposure to sunlight for optimal function and even then depending on latitude and longitude of your location, you still may need to supplement your levels. What I am talking about is cumulative excessive exposure to UV-radiation (think hours at a time, year upon year) which we know suppresses the immune system. Suppression of the immune system leads to cancer. It has been reported that 90% of skin cancers are induced by UV-radiation exposure. 90%! This statistic is a vital reason that I encourage you to take sun protective measures including eating foods rich in anti-oxidant vitamins A, C, E, astaxanthin and omega-3’s, seeking shade, wearing protective clothing and using sunscreen on a daily basis.
Now some of you may be thinking, what? How can that be? Maybe Dr. Barr has been drinking too much of that red wine, because I know that phototherapy (delivery of UVB rays in a very controlled and time limited setting) make my psoriasis better! Psoriasis (a chronic skin condition with or without joint involvement) is known to be driven by an up-regulation of aspects of the immune system...so suppression of these "jazzed up" factors so to speak, is the desired end result. This principle applies to several conditions in dermatology, but these are the exceptions not the rule, and most importantly, the exposure to UV-radiation administered in a dermatologist's office is tightly regulated and controlled to minimize adverse effects of said exposure.
Like a fine wine, your skin will age, but there's a big difference between chronologic aging and physiologic aging. The latter of which is accelerated significantly by extensive sun-exposure. So the choice is yours, grape or raisin...which would you rather be?