Repair (and Even Reverse) Signs of Sun Damage

womansprofile_150hAre you concerned about wrinkles, brown spots, and leathery skin? Following some simple guidelines from The Skin Cancer Foundation can help you repair and possibly even reverse these signs of skin aging, up to 90 percent of which are caused by the sun.

Overexposure to the sun's dangerous ultraviolet (UV) light can also lead to skin cancer and precancers like actinic keratoses (AKs). Since sun damage accumulates over time, it's never too late to start a sun protection regimen.

Although most people know enough to wear sunscreen when the sun is beating down, "Protecting your skin from the sun does not end with the summer months," says Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, a New York City dermatologist and educational spokesperson for The Skin Cancer Foundation. "By carefully practicing sun protection year-round, you can prevent further sun damage and may even reverse some of the damage already done."

To help stop or even reverse sun damage to the skin:

  1. Use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. Sunscreen is one of the keys to radiant, youthful-looking skin. Daily use may even lower your long-term risk of skin cancer. By reducing your daily sun exposure, sunscreen allows your skin time to heal and your immune system the chance to repair some existing damage.

  2. Exfoliate. The buildup of stratum corneum (the dead, outermost skin cell layer) can make skin appear blotchy and uneven. Also, remnants of self-tanning products can collect in typically dry areas (such as the elbows), causing the skin to lose its luster and appear "dirty." Loofahs, scrubs, alpha hydroxy acid (AHA)* cleansers, and home microdermabrasion kits (in which tiny crystals are sprayed on the skin) can remove dead skin cells, leaving skin looking smoother.

  3. Bleach the brown spots. Skin lightener does not actually make the skin white; it simply helps to lighten accumulations of unwanted color. Dr. Sarnoff recommends using an over-the-counter product that contains kojic acid in combination with hydroquinone, Retin-A*, and a mild steroid cream, which is useful for stubborn brown spots and blotchy brown discoloration.

  4. Hydrate. Summer exposure to sun, chlorine, and salt water can dry out your skin - even the heels of your feet can be affected. Try a hand and body cream, and, for the heels, a moisturizing foot cream. A moisturizer with AHA or facial serum with hyaluronic acid can plump up dry skin around the eyes, making skin instantly appear less wrinkled. Continued use may help stimulate the production of new collagen, a protein that helps give skin its texture and appearance.

  5. Try a light-emitting diode (LED). Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are electronic light sources, and some home units are available. Dr. Sarnoff recommends a low energy LED called the Tanda, which can help promote collagen production, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and improve acne.

  6. Visit a dermatologist. Professional laser treatments can improve everything from blotchiness and discoloration to wrinkles. Photodynamic therapy - laser or intense pulsed light (IPL) in combination with a topical solution known as Levulan (aminolevulinic acid) - can remove scaly patches of actinic keratoses from your skin.

* These products can increase your skin's sensitivity to the sun. Use with caution! For more information about sun sensitivity, please see this article.