Undoing Sun Damage

Allyson Mattingly


As a child, I remember grimacing at the mere thought of applying sunscreen before I entered the pool. Now that I'm an adult, I finally understand the importance of wearing sunscreen and using it before I begin my day.

When you're enjoying your day at the pool or the beach, it's easy to forget about slathering on that next layer of SPF, but did you know that the sun's UV rays are the number one cause for premature aging? According to cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, the sun's UV rays can penetrate the skin – even in the deepest layers of skin – and cause changes to DNA at the cellular level. When your skin is overexposed to the sun, this can negatively affect the aging process and, in some cases, even lead to cancer.

The tricky part with sun damage is that your skin may look fine until you visit your dermatologist. Many signs of sun damage take a while to reach the surface. If you do notice signs, such as brown spots, wrinkles, and uneven skin texture, don't worry yet! Take a breath and erase your summer sins with the help of at-home and in-office treatments for sun-damaged skin.

Invest in a Vitamin C Serum

Vitamin C is an effective antioxidant that will help with hyperpigmentation, free radical damage, wrinkles, or anything that sneaks past your sunscreen. It also contributes to the production of collagen and elastin, which will help with keeping your skin looking healthy and youthful. If you're not wearing sunscreen regularly – which you absolutely should be – at least use antioxidants!

Get a Chemical Peel

Chemical peels can vary from light exfoliants to deep options that can clear clogged pores, even out skin tone, and smooth the skin's texture. The acid in a chemical peel works from the inside out, making a change at the cellular level and teaching your skin to behave differently. The best part is, dermatologists can customize peels for your specific skin needs.

Resurface with Retinol

Retinoids are considered the gold standard in anti-aging skincare, second only to sunscreen. They promote cellular turnover and stimulate collagen production, helping signs of sun damage. While over-the-counter retinols are effective, retinoids prescribed by your dermatologist tend to work faster and more effectively.

Book a Microneedling Treatment

For someone with more severe sun damage, microneedling works at the collagen level, allowing dermatologists to retexture your skin. This option combines two techniques into one and uses controlled wounding to stimulate collagen and elastin production along with increased blood circulation. For even better results, microneedling can be performed with radio frequency to penetrate deeper layers of skin to stimulate collagen and tighten skin.

Try out Photodynamic Therapy

Though there may be some cosmetic benefits, most photodynamic therapy (PT) treatments are designed for precancerous skin lesions. Your dermatologist will apply a chemical to the skin, and when activated by light, it can treat potentially cancerous cells. Your skin appears as if you have a slight sunburn, which will fade after about a week.

Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a form of PT geared more toward cosmetic improvements. It's a popular treatment this time of year, as it can help minimize or reduce age spots, sun damage, freckles, and more from the summer season.

When it comes to sun damage, remember that prevention is always easier than reversal and that you can never fully reverse the damage to your skin. Wear 30+ SPF sunscreen daily year-round (yes, even in the winter) to prevent damage from powerful UV rays. Do routine skin checks at home and with your dermatologist. And when possible, stay in the shade! A little prevention can help keep your skin looking youthful and beautiful!•