Whether you’ve shunned the sun entirely or have yet to give up your sun-worshiping ways, chances are you’ve already incurred some amount of sun damage. And unfortunately, it starts to accrue very early, though you may not see the effects right away. According to Dr. Kraffert, board certified dermatologist and president of Amarte, microscopic damage is detected in most children by age 12 (sunburns or no sunburns). We turned to Dr. Kraffert to shed some light on whether or not the visible effects of sun damage can be reversed. He explained that damage occurs in two layers of the skin: the epidermis and dermis. Keep reading to find how to address all types of damage.
The damage that happens in the epidermis (the top layer of skin) is cellular. Over time, UV light damages cells, making them irregular. Dr. Kraffert says your immune system remedies some of the damage, but eventually unfixable buildup starts to accumulate. These cellular irregularities result in skin roughness and dullness.
You can treat the textural irregularities with peels, exfoliation, and fractional non-ablative lasers (lasers that do not cut the skin), like the Fraxel laser. These treatments address any visible dull, rough texture on the skin.
To actually normalize those irregular cells, Dr. Kraffert recommends immune therapy. Creams used to treat cancer (like Imiquimod and Fluorouracil), prescription retinoids (like Retin-A and Tazorac), and over-the-counter retinols (which often yield the same results, but with much less irritation) can be very effective.
Pigment irregularity, which often refers to those brown spots we all know and love so much, can be treated with topical creams. Dr. Kraffert recommends melanin production inhibitors, like Hydroquinone and Arbutin, to brighten the skin. Adding other skin-brightening ingredients, like sulfur and botanical extracts, will help too. Retinoids also address pigment issues. Lasers can be helpful in the treatment of brown spots too, but Dr. Kraffert noted that the treatment and technique selection vary by person and the results are patient-specific. He also added that peels, such as those done with glycolic and citric acid, are generally less effective options.
In addition to the surface irregularities that happen on the epidermal level, there is also injury to the to dermis (the deeper layer of skin) to watch out for. Dr. Kraffert explained that UV light breaks down the collagen and elastin fibers deep in skin tissue, and over time, results in thinning skin, sagging, wrinkling, and more.
Solar elastosis is a term used to describe a buildup of globular material, otherwise none as overly damaged globs of tissue (sounds lovely, right?). Dr. Kraffert explained that once the elastin gets so damaged from the sun’s rays that it no longer stretches, it just sit there in the dermis, in globs, if you will. The challenge is that it is almost impossible to remove it without depigmenting the skin.
But Dr. Kraffert has another solution. Grow a new, healthy layer of tissue above the damaged dermis to improve the appearance of the skin. This is where those skin-saving retinols come in again because their ability to stimulate collagen development. And they do so with very little risk of dicoloring the skin.
Ever notice how the neck and chest of older people are sometimes redder in skin tone? That's because exposure to UV light also has an impact on your blood vessels. The technical term for what happens is Talangiectasia. It's an actual reddening of the skin, due to enlarged veins—we're talking about spider veins. It most often occurs on the neck and chest (just another pleasant meaning for the term “redneck.”) Dr. Kraffert says Talangiectasia is one of the hardest types of damage to treat, but there are a few options, most of which are similar to the treatments for varicose veins. Lasers can go in to destroy the enlarged blood vessels from the inside out. Or, a less drastic approach is to temporarily shrink them down with a topically applied cream. Mirvaso will constrict blood vessels to lessen redness for roughly 12 hours which each use.
Dr. Kraffert reinforced a very simple fact that we already knew: more sun damage leads to more wrinkles because broken collagen and elastin fibers means the skin will sag and wrinkle. Once the injury to the skin has reached this level, it becomes very hard to treat. Dr. Kraffert recommends Botox to relax muscles, as less movement means fewer wrinkles. Injectable fillers plump and tighten the skin, which has an overall lifting effect on the face. But these options only help to improve the appearance of skin, they’re not actually treating it.
In the past, treatment options for deep dermal damage have been minimally successful. But Dr. Kraffert says there’s a new treatment that shows promise. It’s called Ultherapy and it uses ultrasound energy to heat the damaged areas, stimulating the production of new collagen. This is one of newest developments in the treatment of dermal damage, so talk to your doctor for more information.
There are treatment options that will remove and repair sun-damaged skin, but there are risks involved. Your best bet is to stop daily damage, before it gets serious. The most obvious and most effective way to ward off sun damage is with sunscreen. Wear it every day, and pay extra attention to the areas that are most susceptible to the sun’s harmful rays (places where the skin is especially thin, like the neck, chest, and eyes). Additionally, cover yourself with clothes, hats, and shade whenever possible, and up the damage-fighting antioxidants in your skincare regimen.
Are you diligent about sun protection? Tell us how you avoid sun damage in the comments.