When I was younger I wasn’t exactly the poster child for sun protection. On school breaks, I’d visit my grandparents in Florida and spend hours baking in the sun. I’d often get blisters on my décolletage, pop them and continue tanning. I’d wrap tin foil on album covers, apply Bain de Soleil Orange Gelee and fall asleep in the sun. Even though I’d limit major sun exposure like this to vacations, the fact is sun damage isn’t exclusive to sun worshipers. The incidental sun exposure that we receive unintentionally on a daily basis actually accounts for the vast majority of the average person’s lifetime exposure to the sun’s damaging rays.
Sun damage eventually rears its ugly head in the form of wrinkles, sagging skin, uneven pigment, dark spots and even more serious conditions like melanoma. While the cellular changes from UV radiation can’t be entirely reversed there’s a lot you can do to help minimize the damage. Board Certified Plastic Surgeon, Jonathan Kaplan MD, MPH says there are over-the-counter products that can help repair but not cancel out the sun damage entirely. He explains “post burn moisturizers can replenish lost moisture after a sunburn, potentially speeding the healing process and maybe even eliminating the familiar post-burn skin peeling, but any damage to DNA from UV light has already occurred at this point so typical over-the-counter products won’t reverse this.”
Dark spots, hyper-pigmentation and melasma can also be helped by exfoliating treatments:
- Dr. Kaplan is a fan of Intense Pulse Light (IPL) treatments that cause spots to flake off over the course of a few days. A series of treatments is usually required but will get the job done.
- Another option is a combo of hydroquinone and tretinoin, used as a one-two punch to reduce hyper pigmentation and dark spots. With this method of treatment you’ll experience obvious flaking at first as the top layers of your skin are exfoliated, but you will see results in as little as 4 weeks.
- Certain topical antioxidants can also help slough off the dead surface cells, boost collagen and aid in the reparative process. In particular, Vitamin C will help even out your complexion and also protect you from the sun’s damaging free radicals.
Though sun damage does have aesthetically unappealing consequences it can also have deadly consequences as Dr. Kaplan points out. “Too many years of unprotected sun exposure can damage collagen and the skin’s ability to heal, leading to irreversible skin damage and the risk of cancer in the most extreme, unprotected scenarios.” To prevent something as serious as skin cancer, do what you can to help reverse damage that’s already occurred, use sun protection religiously to protect yourself against future damage and get regular skin checks to stay on top of damage that’s already occurred.
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(featured image via pinterest)