Sun damage can occur year-round, but it’s normal to notice it in the fall after a full summer enjoying the great outdoors. While daily use of sunscreen and effective at-home skin care can make a world of difference to your skin’s condition, sometimes professional treatments are needed. These treatments can target the more stubborn signs of sun damage for quick results.
In this post I am going to review the best professional treatments for sun damage with the help of board certified dermatologist Dr. Describe Marisa Garshick. Ready? Let’s go!
What exactly is sun damage?
The first thing you should know is that sun damage can manifest itself in many different ways. In fact, the term doesn’t define a specific state—it’s more like an umbrella for multiple states. according to dr Garshick”Sun damage can occur in many different ways and can result from cumulative sun exposure over many years or even in the vicinity of recent sun exposure, e.g. E.g. at the end of summer.”
When most people think of sun damage, they think of brown spots and hyperpigmentation. These are certainly common signs, but there are others as well. “OOther changes seen as a result of sun damage include broken blood vessels or skin telangiectasia, rough sandpaper-like patches known as actinic keratoses, and changes in skin texture with fine lines and wrinkles known as crepiness,” explains Garshick.
There’s also poikiloderma, a skin condition that includes both hyper- and hypopigmentation, ruptured blood vessels, and skin thinning due to cumulative sun exposure. Fun fact: I actually have poikiloderma on my neck and regularly go for laser treatments to help fade it. You can read all about it here.
How can you fix sun damage at home?
The first thing to do when creating an effective at-home skincare routine for sun damage is to use products that are formulated for your specific skin type. (Take the skin type quiz to find out what Renée Rouleau skin type you are. If you have a lot of visible sun damage, you may be a skin type 8.)
When it comes to the types of products you should be using, both Dr. Garshick and I the same.
1. Apply sunscreen
The first is sunscreen – no surprise! Sunscreen is hands-down the best anti-aging product out there, and there’s no better way to minimize sun damage. Make sure you use one that’s lightweight and won’t clog your pores. I recommend Weightless Protection SPF 30. It’s the sunscreen I wear every day!
“Even if the damage is already there, you should continue to use sunscreen to prevent further damage,” says Garshick. “In general it is recommended to use SPF 30 or higher and remember to reapply every 2 hours. As people spend more time at home, we are learning more about the effects of blue light on skin, which research has shown can lead to signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines and wrinkles. Therefore, it can be important to look for products that also protect against blue light, as well as to use protections on our screens such as: B.EyeJust Blue Light Blocking Screen Protector.
Note: The mineral ingredients found in makeup can help protect against visible light (including blue light). That’s just one of the reasons why I recommend wearing makeup every day!
2. Use retinoids
Retinoids, including retinol, are incredibly effective at fighting sun damage because they boost cellular turnover and help improve overall tone and texture over time. Garshick notes that they also stimulate collagen production, which can help with fine lines and wrinkles. Trust me – if you have sun damaged skin and aren’t already using retinol, you should be!
I recommend the Advanced Resurfacing Serum to all my clients. I’ve formulated it to be safe for sensitive skin types, so you don’t have to worry about excessive dryness and irritation.
3. Use antioxidants
Antioxidants like Vitamin C are fantastic brightening ingredients. In fact, I recommend using a vitamin C serum every morning to keep your skin tone nice and even. However, that is not the only advantage they offer. “Antioxidants can help neutralize free radical damage, which can contribute to the occurrence of sun damage, so using antioxidants like vitamin C can help protect against DNA damage,” says Garshick.
4. Use both chemical and physical peels
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know how highly I recommend incorporating exfoliating acids into your skincare routine. They stimulate cell turnover and break down and digest the “glue” that holds dead, pigmented cells together. Translation? They can smooth, brighten and even out sun damaged skin.
When it comes to sun damage and hyperpigmentation specifically, I recommend a 2-step approach to exfoliation. Start with a chemical exfoliation (like an at-home chemical peel or exfoliating acid serum) and follow with a gentle physical exfoliation (like a face scrub). Chemical peeling breaks down pigmented cells and physical peeling removes them.
What are the best professional treatments for sun damage?
As I mentioned earlier, if you have severe sun damage (e.g. skin type 8), you could benefit from certain professional treatments. Of course, you’ll need to consult a trusted skincare professional like a beautician or dermatologist for this, but they can improve your skin’s condition significantly!
1. Fractional laser treatments
Fractional laser treatments can be incredibly effective in minimizing the appearance of sun damage. Take it from Garshick, who says, “These treatments can help with brown spots, discoloration, fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin, all of which can be a result of sun exposure. Although there is some downtime associated with these procedures (3-7 days on average), these provide excellent results to improve the appearance of sun damage and allow it to reset. Although you will see results with as little as one treatment, it is often recommended to do multiple ones for best results.”
So, fractional laser treatments work by initiating the wound healing process Increasing collagen production and improving skin tone and texture. Garshick says the word “fractionated” means the laser doesn’t affect all areas of the skin. This helps speed up the recovery process.
2. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)
The second expert-recommended treatment for sun damage is Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), also known as Photofacial. This is a treatment I’m very familiar with as I get it semi-regularly for my poikiloderma.
According to Garshick, this is a type of light therapy, but it’s different from laser treatments. “It is differs from a laser, which emits a single wavelength, as this light-based therapy uses several different wavelengths. As such, it is often able to combat redness and broken blood vessels, as well as brown spots and discoloration. Although not much downtime is expected with this treatment, it is possible to notice an initial darkening of dark spots and a potential worsening of redness, which subsequently improves within a few days.”
3. Chemical peels
The benefits of chemical peels, especially for sun damage, cannot be overstated. As a beautician with over 30 years of experience, I have performed countless chemical peels. I’ve seen firsthand how they can transform skin for the better. They renew the skin’s surface, so help lift hyperpigmentation, smooth texture and brighten overall tone.
“Chemical peels work by removing dead skin cells and stimulating skin cell turnover, which helps improve skin tone and skin texture while stimulating collagen production,” says Garshick. “The deeper the peel, the more downtime you can expect, although medium-deep peels are a good option for people with a lot of sun damage. The more treatments, the better the results, but it’s important that those with darker skin types exercise caution given the risk of possible hyperpigmentation.”
There are different types of chemical peels. Consult a trusted skin care professional to find out which one is best for you.
Last but not least there is microneedling. This treatment is great for sun damage. It uses tiny needles to create small puncture wounds in the skin. The purpose of creating these micro-wounds is to trigger your skin’s own healing response, which is quite powerful. It might sound scary, but microneedling involves little to no pain, and a topical numbing cream is applied before a single needle touches your face. The procedure is performed using a tool called a dermaroller, and the needles are usually between 0.5 and 3.5mm long.
Garshick says it can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, uneven texture, and hyperpigmentation. “The addition of Platelet Rich Plasma (or PRP) can make microneedling even more effective as the PRP is believed to contain growth factors to speed up the healing process and promote skin cell renewal. In general, I recommend at least 3 sessions to see improvement, although even one will show improvement.”
It’s not just sun damage that this treatment works well for. It also works well for post breakout marks and nicked acne scars.
The final result
It is always easier and cheaper to prevent sun damage than to repair it after the fact. For this reason, the right sun protection is crucial. Make sure you apply SPF every day, wear sunscreen clothing, and seek shade whenever possible.
However, just because your sun damage is already visible doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Start with the right sunscreen, use the right at-home products, and consult a trusted skincare professional to inquire about the professional treatments above. Doing all of these things will leave your skin looking and feeling smooth, radiant and youthful!
Next, read everything you need to know about melasma.
Famous beautician and skincare expert
An esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience and building an award-winning line of products. Her hands-on experience as an esthetician and trusted skincare expert has created a real solution – products formulated for nine different skin types to give your face exactly what it needs to look and feel good. Celebrities, editors, bloggers and skincare enthusiasts around the world trust her extensive real-world knowledge and ongoing research. Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”