woman in black tank top wearing brown sun hat and black sunglasses

Dermatologists Share Their Tips on How to Reverse Sun Damage

woman in black tank top wearing brown sun hat and black sunglasses

Although the sun’s warmth can feel great on our skin, it can also cause severe damage to our dermis (yes even in winter). Even if we apply sunscreen regularly and avoid sunburns, the cumulative sun exposure can lead to premature aging.

“UV rays can cause uneven pigmentation and brown spots, broken blood vessels and white spots,” says Debra Jaliman MD, a board certified dermatologist who is also the author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist. It can also cause wrinkles and elastic tissue to fall apart, which can lead to skin sagging.

Although it is impossible to reverse all sun damage, there are some treatments that can help.

  • At-Home Maintenance

Prior to diving into targeted treatments that may have a greater immediate payoff, it is important to maintain a healthy skin routine.

An SPF 30+ should be at the top of your “must have” list. It should be worn every day. It is a good idea to moisturize and cleanse your skin daily. Products with scientific backing such as ceramides, Peptides, Ceramides and Vitamin C are best.

  • Chemical Peels

Chemical peels remove the skin’s top layers so your body can regenerate new, healthier skin. They can reduce fine lines and wrinkles, improve brightness, and evenen out your complexion.

There are many options for in-office treatments. These range from mild, which use enzymes gently, to more intense acids (such as TCA peels) that require downtime. Although stronger peels may produce the best results, not all patients are suitable. Your provider will be able to help you determine the best option based on your skin type and goals.

Professional chemical peels have a pH of about 2.0. However, you can choose to use lower strength products at home, such as AHAs and BHAs or lactic acid and mandelic acids. These superficial peels are also known as “lunchtime” peels, because they require little to no downtime. They penetrate the skin minimally and gently exfoliate to help with minor skin issues like discoloration or rough texture.

  • Retinoids

Topical retinoid creams can reverse sun damage and help to restore youthfulness. Retinol is an over-the-counter product that can be purchased in various concentrations and forms depending on which brand. Only prescriptions are required to purchase retinoic acid (tretinoin), which is a stronger and more effective option.

Orit Markowitz MD, a dermatologist and skin-cancer specialist, says that prescription [tretinoin] has the only evidence of reversal of some textural changes, such as wrinkles.

Dr. Markowitz claims that tretinoin can be applied consistently over time to thicken the dermis. This will make skin look less dull, wrinkled, and rough.

  • Laser treatments

There are many laser treatments that can treat the effects of sun damage, including dullness and discoloration. Your dermatologist will recommend the right type of laser for your needs. Favorites include Fraxel and Pico.

Dr. Markowitz says that Pico laser technology is good for basic freckles or sun spots. This is a rapid-pulsing, photo-acoustic laser. It doesn’t cause heat or thermal damage to the skin, so there is no downtime and very high results.

To achieve optimal results, you will need to do three to four Pico laser treatments. These should be spaced approximately two to four weeks apart. Fraxel lasers use fractionated light to target brown spots and fine line. They are usually four treatments, spaced approximately one month apart. Each treatment typically requires five days of downtime.

Dr. Jaliman says that the procedure takes about an hour and is done in the office. First, you are numbed with mumbling cream for about an hour. Next, the laser takes about 15 minutes. You can then ice for an additional 15 minutes.”

  • Phytodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy (PT) is another useful in-office treatment that is often covered under insurance. Although there may be cosmetic benefits, it is a treatment that targets cancerous skin cells.

“Here, you apply an aminolevulinic Acid chemical. This tends to bind cells that are likely to be growing at a faster rate. This is often a sign that there is cancer or precancerous damage,” Dr. Markowitz says.

The chemical is left to sit for 16 minutes, 40 seconds (yes it is that exact!) The skin is exposed to red or blue light. Dr. Markowitz explained that cells that grow too fast will cause them to lighten up and crust over. The skin will look almost like it has sunburn.

Then, within a week, the effects begin to fade. The best results will not be seen for three to four weeks.

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