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Reverse Skin Damage Caused by the Sun

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 7 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
The Sun Anti Ageing Sun Protection

We all know now how important it is to protect our skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays, through the use of sunscreens, covering up with clothing and avoiding sun exposure during the middle of the day. In fact, sunscreen is claimed to be the most effective anti ageing treatment of all!

However, what happens if we have been naughty when we were younger and were not so careful? What happens if we let things slip occasionally and got sunburnt? Is it possible to reverse damage the skin caused by the sun?

What Kind of Damage Does the Sun do to Skin?

The UV radiation in the sun’s rays penetrates your skin cells down to the DNA and actually cause damage on a genetic level. These damaged cells then become dysfunctional in a variety of ways, from losing the ability to produce collagen and elastin, which supports the skin and gives it firmness and youthful plumpness, to losing the ability to slough off layers of dead skin cells, leading to a dull, muddy appearance.

In addition, sun damage causes the top layer of skin to thin and also induces a rise in pigmentation. Worst of all, the dysfunctional cells could turn cancerous. From a visual perspective, sun damage produces dry skin which may show the following symptoms:

  • Fine and coarse wrinkles
  • Freckles
  • “Mottled" pigmentation (discoloured areas of skin)
  • Sallow skin tone
  • Broken capillaries
  • Sagging, inelastic skin
  • Pre-cancerous lesions and benign tumours
  • Skin cancer

What Should You Do If Your Get Sunburn?

First, cool and soothe your inflamed skin by applying a cold compress of water and milk or even chilled aloe vera gel, if you have some to hand. If your burn is quit serious, consider taking an aspirin to relieve the pain and also help minimise inflammation. Over-the-counter steroid creams can also help to reduce inflammation although beware that topical steroid creams can cause your skin to thin even more if you use them too often.

Can You Do Anything To Reverse the Damage?

Reversing sun damage isn’t easy, although there are a few things you can do which may be able to repair some things and provide a slight anti ageing effect. First, start wearing sun protection religiously – no, it is not too late and research shows that just using sunscreen can actually reverse the activity of dysfunction, pre-cancerous cells. So make you sure that you apply at least SPF15 daily. Next, there are several treatments designed for addressing sun damage:

Topical Antioxidant Creams – these often contain Vitamin C (which if combined with Vitamin E boosts the effectiveness of sunscreen) and green tea extract, powerful antioxidants which help to neutralize the free radicals in sun damaged skin. Research also shows that topical green tea can inhibit the growth of cancerous cells.

Topical Retinoid Creams – these products contain Retin A (a derivative of Vitamin A) which has been scientifically proven to repair damaged skin cells, reviving the collagen and elastin levels, increasing blood flow to the skin and sloughing off dead skin cells, as well as plumping up cells in the top layer of skin. One big drawback, however, is that Retin-A is only effective if it is used over a long period of time (several months) and in the meantime, irritation and increased sensitivity to sun can occur.

Microdermabrasion – this is essentially a mechanical exfoliation of the top layers of skin, so that they are removed and the “newer, undamaged” lower layers are exposed. It can also help to even out hyperpigmentation. However, it can be a harsh treatment so is not really suitable for those with sensitive skin.

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL) – this uses photorejuventation techniques to treat a variety of problems caused by sun damage, such as general redness and broken capillaries, as well as helping to remove age spots, freckles and pigmentation. It is often used on the hands, neck and chest – areas which often first show sun damage. IPL requires a series of treatments to be effective.

Chemical Peels – this uses a mild concentration of acid (e.g. lactic, glycolic or TCA) to “peel” the top layer off your skin and replace the epidermis with the fresh, new layer underneath. The effect is to reduce superficial wrinkles, lines and age spots, as well as working on some early pre-cancerous cells. Some redness and swelling may follow treatment, depending on the strength of the peel.

Preventing Sun Damage

Prevention is the best policy with skin care as no treatment can fully restore the look and feel of healthy, undamaged skin. So always wear sunscreen, at least SPF15, and avoid sun exposure between 10am-4pm. If you must be outdoors during this time, wear protective clothing, hats and eyewear and a high SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen.

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