Everyone is susceptible to sun damage. Even if you’re cautious and avoid burns, sun damage is cumulative and progressive beginning with the very first sunburn, although the effects may not become visible for many years.
What You Need to Know
Sun overexposure causes inflammation, visible burns, pain, and blistering. Continued sun exposure without protection will cause premature aging, dry skin, wrinkling, brown spots, uneven skin color, and of course, increase the risk of skin cancer.
What causes sun damage?
Exposure to radiation from sunlight (UV exposure) is responsible for 70-80% of premature skin aging. UVB and UVA rays both can lead to premature aging, mutations, and cancer. UVA rays penetrate the skin into the dermis (causing damage at the cellular level). UVB rays have a shorter wavelength and don’t pass the epidermis and are mainly responsible for sunburns.
What can you do?
While you can’t completely undo the effects of overexposure from the sun, there are steps that may help you feel better.
- Get out of the sun. By the time you feel the burn, it’s already too late.
- Cool it. Use wet cloth, cold compresses, take cool/cold shower or bath.
- Keep skin hydrated. Moisturize sunburned skin.
- Ease inflammation. Use a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen to lessen the pain.
- Drink lots of water. Drink plenty of water to replenish your skin to avoid dehydration.
- Leave blisters alone. Treat gently and don’t manually peel off the dead skin.
- Eat fresh foods. A vitamin-rich diet can reduce UV skin damage.
- Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. Prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of water.
- Moisturize. Use a high-quality, penetrating moisturizer
- Exfoliate. Cleansers, exfoliating masks, and cosmetic treatments like microdermabrasion, remove dead skin cells, even out skin tone, fade brown spots and smoother skin.
- Sunscreen. Use it every day!
What about damage control?
There are various approaches to help reduce and repair the long-term effects of sun-damaged skin. And while much of the visible damage may be treated, the cellular damage and cancer risks cannot be undone. Remember, melanoma is one most the preventable forms of skin cancer. If something doesn’t’ look right, have it checked out by a dermatologist.
Facial Peels. A chemical solution is applied to the skin causing the top layer of skin to peel off. The newly exfoliated skin is smooth, the wrinkles are softened, and brown spots lightened.
Topical repair and brightening agents. Retinoid products work by increasing collagen production and cell regeneration. In particular, tretinoin, has been shown to reduce wrinkling, dark spots and roughness. It’s important to remember that these products make your skin photosensitive, so sunscreen is a must.
Injectable fillers. Restructure and add volume to hollow, fat-deficient areas of the face caused by too much sun.
Lasers – ablative and non-ablative and Light therapy. Each type of treatment is intended to decrease the appearance of fine lines, smooth skin texture, help remove dark spots and even out skin tone.
· Ablative laser treatments remove the epidermal layer of skin, heating the dermis, causing the collagen fibers to shrink. As the wound heals, new smoother and tighter skin forms.
· Non-ablative lasers cause damage beneath the skin and stimulate the growth of new collagen, tightening underlying skin, improving skin tone and appearance. No skin is removed.
· Light therapy like IPL (intense pulsed light) targets brown and red spots and stimulates the skin to produce collagen and elastin fibers.
What about prevention?
There’s no substitute for prevention. It is still the best way to maintain healthy skin for the long-term. Practice good sun protection with any or all of the following:
- Sunscreen. Use a moisturizer with at least an SPF 30 every day. Reapply often when outdoors.
- Avoid peak exposure hours. Stay out of the sun between the hours of 10am and 2pm.
- Cover up. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and consider UV-protective clothing.
- Home care. Use consistent and appropriate skin care regimen that strengthens and protects your skin.
- Say NO to tanning beds. If used as intended, you will increase your risk of skin cancer and guarantee premature photo-aging.
Always seek advice from a licensed skin care professional if you have questions about the risks and benefits of these treatments and what might work the best for your specific needs.