Undoing Sun Damaged Skin
Life is fun in the sun.
But sun exposure has a dark side. It ages the skin and causes changes at the cellular level that put people at risk for not only wrinkles, discoloration, loose (crepey) skin and more, but also precancer and even skin cancer.
There is a bright side. You can have the best of both worlds: enjoying the great outdoors and maintaining healthy, beautiful skin. Even if you have heaps of sun damage already, there are ways to diminish its appearance and restore healthier looking skin.
First, Do You Have Sun Damage?
Chances are you do. We’re born with pristine skin, but with time comes change. Signs of sun-damage, like freckles, begin to appear by the time many are toddlers [source: [source: See how the sun damages your skin (aad.org)].
For each day of sun exposure and every hour in a tanning bed, we add to the wrinkles and lines, hyperpigmentation, loose skin, spider veins, blotchy skin, and cancerous skin changes.
Photodamage, another name for sun damage, is most visible where tanning or sunburns are likely to happen—on the face, neck, limbs and upper chest. And while people with light skin tones and blonde or red hair are most susceptible to sun damaged skin, ultraviolet UV radiation can damage all skin types [source: Sun-damaged Skin: Photoaging, Signs, Causes & Treatment (clevelandclinic.org)]].
Protect the Skin With These 4 Lifestyle Basics
People of all skin tones and ages can prevent photodamage or keep it from getting worse by practicing sun protective behaviors. It’s never too late to stop or slow compounding damage from the sun.
Sun protection basics are:
- Seek shade when possible.
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Some of today’s more popular sunscreens are mineral based (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) products versus chemical sunscreens. Cover your face and body, including places that get sun which might not be so obvious, like the tips of the ears and tops of the feet. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours when sweating or in the water.
- Wear clothing and accessories that protect the skin, eyes, and hair, such as long-sleeved lightweight shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses.
- Avoid tanning beds. Consider the safer option of a self-tanning topical product instead.
What is Hyperpigmentation?
Spots of darkened skin pigment, known as hyperpigmentation or sunspots, are one of the most obvious signs of sun damage.
Skin cells make melanin, which gives skin its color. Sun exposure damages skin cells and can result in these cells making too much melanin. Cosmetically, this looks like spots or clumps of darker pigment [source: Hyperpigmentation: Age Spots, Sun Spots & Liver Spots (clevelandclinic.org)].
How to Fix Hyperpigmentation
Simply protecting the skin from the sun can prevent hyperpigmentation.
Treating hyperpigmentation is another matter. There are skincare ingredients and topical medications that help lighten the dark spots. But sometimes it takes more to rid facial and other visible skin of the discoloration. Those treatments range from skin peels to laser treatments.
One ingredient that has become controversial is hydroquinone, which used to be a popular skin lightening ingredient in over-the-counter and prescription products. The FDA has received reports of serious side effects from hydroquinone, such as skin rashes, facial swelling, and (ironically) skin discoloration, and the agency advises that consumers should not use hydroquinone-containing skin lightening treatments. The FDA works to protect consumers from potentially harmful OTC skin lightening products | FDA.
The good news is that there are other ingredients, including antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and ingredients focused on interfering with melanin production, that have been shown in studies to help diminish the dark spots. Still other potential topical treatments improve dark pigment by exfoliation and some even destroy pigment.
Those ingredients include:
- Age-Repair Defensins®
- antioxidants, such as vitamin C
- kojic acid
- azelaic acid
- licorice extract
- cysteamine hydrochloride (HCL)
- tranexamic acid, which can be prescribed topically and orally
- topical retinoids and retinols
- alpha hydroxy acids [source: Cosmeceutical Ingredients for Pigment – The Dermatology Digest (thedermdigest.com)]
Melasma: Another Common Cosmetic Problem Linked to Sun Damage
Darkened brown or blue-gray skin patches on sun-exposed areas of the face, known as melasma, impact people of all skin types.
Scientists haven’t pinpointed a cause yet, but they think melasma results from sun exposure and hormonal changes, with some calling it the “mask of pregnancy” [Comparative Study of Combination of Oral Tranexamic Acid With Modified Kligman's Formula Versus Oral Tranexamic Acid With Azelaic Acid 15% in the Treatment of Melasma - PubMed (nih.gov) and Melasma: Treatment, Causes & Prevention (clevelandclinic.org)].
Sometimes melasma fades naturally after a few months. But often it’s a persistent, frustrating cosmetic condition.
The flat patches or spots of melasma affect the face. Many notice it on their cheeks, upper lip, and forehead. It can reappear after treatment. And while having melasma poses no danger to health, it can greatly impact a person’s quality of life, causing emotional and social distress.
How to Get Rid of Melasma
Treating melasma can be tricky. One thing is for sure, sun protection is a must.
Many of the same treatments used to rid the skin of hyperpigmentation, like chemical peels and laser treatments, are likely ineffective or only temporarily effective with melasma.
But some ingredients found in topical creams and oral medications have been shown to help.
Here are some of the topical medications and ingredients that could help diminish or rid the skin of melasma:
- Age-Repair Defensins®
- Azelaic acid
- Tranexamic acid (also available as an oral medication or injection)
- Hydroquinone (used for specific periods of time)
- Alpha hydroxy acid
- Prescription retinoid (tretinoin)
- Soybean extract
- Vitamin C
- Kojic acid
- Licorice extract
- topical retinoids and retinols
Note: Studies suggest a combination of hydroquinone, tretinoin, and a topical steroid as the most effective approach for treating melasma [source: Melasma: Treatment, Causes & Prevention (clevelandclinic.org)].
If You Have Melasma, Avoid These Things
Birth control pills and hormone treatments with estrogen can worsen the appearance of melasma.
Other things to avoid:
- Screen time on your TV, computer, phone or other devices, as the light from these can worsen the skin condition.
- Medication that makes one sensitive to light, which includes some antibiotics and NSAIDs.
- Skincare products and soaps that irritate the skin.
Treating Hyperpigmentation and Melasma With Age Repair Defensins®
Amy Forman Taub, MD, Dermatoligst found that Defensins-molecules "enable skin to reflect light in a distinct way. My patients are seeing a definite improvement of hyperpigmentation; there is an exceptional overall skin brightening with a distinct luminosity."
See how Age Repair Defensins® can "Mask" Pigment here: https://defenage.com/skincare-guide/defensins-super-powers/pigment-masker
Treatments alone don’t cure hyperpigmentation or melasma. Maintaining healthy, beautiful skin while enjoying the outdoors is a life-long commitment to sun protection, skin care, avoiding triggers, and making healthy lifestyle choices.