Celebrity sun worshipers: What have you wrought?  

Since the 1920's, Hollywood celebrities have sent the message: sun tans are beautiful. In the 1950's and 60's, tans acted as the central image of the beach movies starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. Actor George Hamilton (left) has promoted himself as the sun tan poster boy, goading a generation to pursue the "healthy" tan. Since those carefree days, research and experience have shown that years of sun exposure can have decidedly unhealthy effects on the skin.



   Robert Redford early 1970's

  Robert Redford late 1990's

What does the sun do to the skin?

There are two types of ultraviolet radiation that bombard our skin daily. UVB causes sun burns. Repeated exposure to UVB rays damage collagen production resulting in fine and deep wrinkles. Skin cell DNA is progressively altered causing the development of skin cancers. Pigment remains after burns in the form of sunspots. The immune system cells in the skin are essentially stunned by UV radiation, again increasing the risk of skin cancer and precipitating flares of cold sores and fungus infections. Other medical conditions such as acne rosacea are also worsened by sun exposure.

Actress Brigitte Bardot offers an example of the long-term effects sun exposure. This saucy French actress starred in many films in the 1960's. The photo on the right from the mid-1980's shows the wrinkling from sun exposure that many mistakenly assume is a natural part of aging. Unlike many American actresses, Bardot has opted not to undergo face-lifts and other facial rejuvenating treatments that are currently available in the office of a dermatologist.

UVA, "tanning" rays, have been for years considered a safe form of radiation. Known to not cause burns, this is the light used in tanning booths. Current research now shows that UVA rays are also responsible for wrinkles, pigmentation and other cosmetically questionable changes.

Actress Pamela Anderson Lee is shown tanned. One can project the detrimental effect of this behavior with a photo of Lee's predecessor Brigitte Bardot. If she keeps laying out in the sun, Lee can expect to emulate Bardot's appearance in later life. Or undergo repeated, painful expensive cosmetic procedures in an attempt to remain wrinkle-free. Isn't a little preventive medicine an easier choice?

Sun burns and and even tanning booths are unhealthy and should be avoided by wearing wide-brim hats and repeated sunscreen use.

Lara Flynn Boyle & Jenny McCarthy show off sun burn souvenirs

These two starlets share a history of sun burns and an affinity for black straps.

Ah, the sun. So healthy. And on a summer day without sunscreen, the skin reddens and bubbles like a simmering fondue. Adding aesthetic insult to injury, a blistering sun burn leaves a cutaneous reminder: sun spots. Usually seen on the shoulders, chests, or backs, these dark freckle-like spots are not themselves pre-cancerous. But they are a direct sign of sun damage and should alert one to keep a close eye on these areas for new or changing growths. In the entertainment business, preserving a youthful look is paramount. For those that are bothered by their appearance, lasers and freezing treatments can effectively fade sun spots. Of course, care must be taken not to burn again. A career may be revived, but healthy skin may not be regained.

Does Courtney Cox wear the mask of pregnancy? Sounds like a story arc from "Friends"



 Cox has chest sun spots and under her facial makeup...
 ...is tan discoloration of the forehead and cheeks...
 ...a "mask" that is not easily removed.

In addition to chest sun spots, this Friend in need shows another pigment problem. Talented actress and comedienne Courtney Cox reveals one of the most common skin conditions to plague adult women: Melasma. These tan patches on the cheeks and forehead sometime happen to pregnant women, so a lay label is "the mask of pregnancy." However, since melasma results from a combination of estrogen hormone, genetics, and sun exposure, it is just as routinely seen in women on birth control pills or from a non-pregnant woman's own natural estrogen hormone. Though not dangerous, it is a significant cosmetic issue and is slow to respond to treatment. Therapy consists of topical creams that slowly fade the pigment, such as Azelex (azelaic acid), retin-A, hydroquinone, kojic acid, and glycolic acid. Often more than one of this salves are needed together to reduce the color. These prescription and/or over-the-counter creams can have potential side effects, have to be used for months, and stringent use of sunscreens is crucial. And when it finally clears, it can recur. Just like "Friends" re-runs on an endless cable loop.

Go ahead, make his day: Clint's telangiectasias


 In one of his Westerns, actor Clint Eastwood's character is left to die in the desert sun and develops a doozy of a sunburn. Eastwood himself shows the effects of a life of sun exposure. In addition to the furrows and wrinkles, he has numerous telangiectasias. Before trying to say this daunting derm-term three times fast, we will translate it: dilated blood vessels. Caused by both hereditary and sun damage, they become more prominent with exercise and alcohol use. These pesky red lines can be reduced with lasers specifically tuned to zap them. Treatments do not typically produce scarring and result in little downtime. Giving "Dirty Harry" more time to make the world safe for multiplex venturing public.


 Pale Renee Zellweger

Fair Uma Thurman 

 Somewhat ashen Christina Ricci

Actresses unabashedly showing what God gave them

No, you don't have to adjust your computer screen. And you can stop scrutinizing each pixel to find some skin defect on the faces of these three actresses. In fact, their lack of lesions, wrinkles, even significant facial color is the point. For years, movie stars and the cohorts of their generation have worshiped the sun, attempting to achieve the so-called "healthy tan." It is clear, however, that for this "worship," the sun is a false God. Now those fair-skinned folk who have subjected themselves to excess ultraviolet radiation are developing wrinkles, sun spots, and skin cancers. Imagine the delight of the extensive skinema staff at the advent of a group of attractive stars that do not hide their fair skin. These cutaneous rebels are not considered freakish or deformed. These ladies are pale, Gosh bless 'em, and will be rewarded with younger appearing skin for years to come. But a word to Christina Ricci: One can have too much of a good thing. It is possible to appear fair without looking mortuary-bound. A little blush won't end your career, my dear.


© 1996-2008 Vail Reese M.D.

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