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What I Did to Reverse the Sun Damage to My Skin: A Case Study

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 28 May 2012 | comments*Discuss
Age Skin Sun Damage Reverse

Like a lot of people, Melanie had never thought much about sun damage to her skin when she was in her teens and early twenties, despite warnings from her mother, and even in magazine and newspaper articles about the risks of sun exposure.

Reckless Youth

“I was just more concerned with getting a tan to look good,” says Melanie regretfully. “All my friends would sunbathe and nobody really cared much about using sunscreen or covering up with hats and things. We actually thought it was healthier to have a deep tan. In fact, I sometimes stayed out in the sun too long – I know I got sun burnt twice – and my skin was so red for days and peeled horribly afterwards.”

Unfortunately, Melanie’s long years of sun worshipping have come at a price and at the age of 42, she looked decades older, due to the excessive wrinkles and age spots on her face and the coarse, sagging appearance of her skin – especially the skin around her eyes.

“It was horrible!” Says Melanie. “I couldn’t bear to look at myself in the mirror. I kept putting on more and more make-up to try and cover things up a bit but that just made me look even worse – like some kind of geriatric clown!”

Damage Assessment

Finally, in despair, Melanie booked an appointment with a dermatologist and was horrified to learn just how much damage she had done to her skin.

“He showed me this diagram of the skin layers and explained to me exactly what the UV radiation from the sun had done – like damaging the cells so that they couldn’t produce collagen and elastic properly anymore…that’s why my skin had started sagging so much and looked so sort of deflated,” explains Melanie. “It was also why I always felt like my skin looked really dull and muddy – because it just wasn’t getting rid of the top layer of dead cells properly.”

In addition to her wrinkles and sagging skin, Melanie found that she also had other signs of sun damage, including a large patch of mottled pigmentation across both her cheeks and even broken capillaries along her jaw line. She was relieved to hear, however, that at least her skin did not show any pre-cancerous changes – so far.

“I’m really lucky,” says Melanie. “Most people with the amount of sun exposure I’ve had will usually have had some pre-cancerous lesions or something by now. Although of course, I can’t relax – I have to keep checking my skin – but at least, for now, I don’t have to worry about skin cancer.”

Turning Back the Clock…

Melanie was still worried about the way she looked, however, and she was delighted to hear that there were a few things she could do to help her skin’s appearance and try undo the harm done. Reversing damage is no easy feat but there are certain treatments which may help.

“I started applying an anti-oxidant cream every night. It had green tea extract and Vitamin C, which is suppose to help neutralise the free radicals in skin that’s been sun damaged,” says Melanie. “I also started using a retinoid cream which contains Retin A which actually repairs damaged skin cells and raises the elastin and collagen levels again. It’s even supposed to help increase the blood flow to the skin and plump up the cells a bit. I haven’t seen much change here but the dermatologist told me that it’s only effective if used for a long time – like several months – so I guess I’ll just have to be patient.”

“One thing which did make a difference was microdermabrasion,” says Melanie. “This is sort of like sanding away the top layer of your skin, so you get rid of all the old, dead stuff. This really made a difference to the way I looked – my skin just looked so much fresher – and it also helped to even out the pigmentation on my cheeks a bit. Thank goodness I don’t have sensitive skin as otherwise, you can’t really use microdermabrasion. “

Melanie was also considering Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL) which uses photo-rejuvenation techniques to treat problems in the skin, like broken capillaries and age spots. However, this also requires a series of treatments to be successful so she has decided to try the retinoid cream first.

“One thing I have started doing immediately is wearing sunscreen everyday!” Says Melanie. “I thought it was too late to make a difference but the dermatologist told me that research has shown that using sunscreen can reverse the activity of damaged cells. And I certainly don’t want to do any more damage to my poor skin! I’ve got myself a moisturiser that contains SPF 15 so I know that I will always have sun protection – and then if I know I’m going out in the sun between 10 and 4 o’clock, I make sure I put on proper sunscreen, like factor 30, and I also wear a hat now. As they say, better late than never!”

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