Are you starting to notice fine lines or dark spots on your face? Believe it or not, these skin issues are not just caused by normal aging. A study showed that up to 90% of visible skin aging is caused by overexposure to the sun’s harmful rays.
Is there anything you can do to reverse this damage? Keep reading to find out the effects of sun exposure on your skin and how to reverse sun damage.
What Is Sun Damage?
The sun helps the skin produce vitamin D, which enhances the body’s immune system, but overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can also cause significant damage to the skin. This damage is referred to as sun damage, photoaging, or photodamage.
There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. The most common form of sun exposure is UVA. Although you can’t see UVA rays, they can damage your skin from the epidermis (outer layer) deep down into the dermis (inner layer).
Several parts within the layers of the skin are affected, including collagen, elastin fibers, epidermal cells, and capillaries. Collagen and elastin fibers give the skin its elasticity, firmness, and youthful tautness.
Meanwhile, UVB rays, though not as prevalent, are more potent than UVA rays. UVB causes DNA changes in the epidermis, potentially leading to premature skin aging and the formation of precancerous cells.
Everyone is susceptible to sun damage. However, the amount of damage you experience depends on your skin type, how much unprotected sun exposure you’ve had over time, and other environmental factors.
People with lighter skin are generally more susceptible to sun damage and skin cancer. They also burn easier due to less melanin, a pigment that protects the skin from the sun’s UV rays.
Darker-skinned people can also develop sun damage and skin cancer but they are more likely to get melasma or uneven dark patches on their skin.
How Does Sun Damage Affect Your Skin?
Sun damage has short-term and long-term effects on your skin. Frequent unprotected exposure to the sun’s UV rays over time increases the risk of skin cancer.
Sunburn is an immediate, visible sign of sun damage, often accompanied by redness and blotchiness. If you look at sunburnt skin under a microscope, you will see that the skin cells and blood cells have been damaged.
With repeated sunburn, your skin will start to look and feel dry, flaky, discolored, or wrinkled. This is because the sun can deplete the skin’s levels of essential fatty acids.
Sun damage can also slow down the rate of cell renewal, resulting in a build-up of old or dead skin cells. It causes dullness, congestion, and stubborn pigmentation marks on the skin.
Other signs of sun damage include the following:
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Rough, uneven skin tone
- Decreased elasticity
- Pigmentation changes, such as age spots or liver spots (solar lentigines)
- Mottled pigmentation (discolored areas of the skin)
- Sallowness (yellow discoloration of the skin)
- Spider veins or broken capillaries, usually around the nose and chest
- Telangiectasias (dilation of small blood vessels under the skin)
- Elastosis (the destruction of the elastic and collagen tissues)
- Actinic keratoses (raised bumps or rough, scaly patches of skin)
- Benign tumors
- Cancerous skin lesions, like melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma
What Can You Do To Reverse Sun Damage?
Practicing daily sun protection is the best way to take care of your skin. It is essential in preventing, slowing down, and reversing the signs of sun damage.
Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher will help shield your skin from UVA and UVB rays.
A 2013 study found that people who use sunscreen daily with SPF 15 or higher show 24% less skin aging than those who do not use sun protection.
Although sun damage cannot be removed entirely, some treatments may help minimize its effects and repair the skin.
Topical retinoids in a cream or serum, like tretinoin, can be prescribed by a dermatologist. These compounds help boost the collagen in the skin. Retinoids can address uneven skin tone, fine lines, and roughness caused by sun damage.
Retinol is a less potent form of retinoid that you can also find in over-the-counter products. They vary in formulations and strengths depending on your skin type. This compound works by increasing collagen production and encouraging cell turnover.
Dr. David Bank, a board-certified dermatologist in New York, says that retinol combats nearly all signs of sun damage. “It can help fade brown spots, even out pigmentation, and even diminish wrinkles,” he adds.
Laser is another treatment for the signs of sun damage. It uses short pulses of concentrated light to shed specific areas or layers off the skin to reveal new, fresh skin beneath.
There are different approaches to laser treatments, including CO2 and fractional resurfacing. Dr. Kathleen Suozzi, director of Aesthetic Dermatology, says that laser treatments can make your skin healthier and help treat precancerous changes.
Fractional resurfacing works to rejuvenate the skin and minimize the appearance of enlarged pores, brown spots, and fine lines.
Meanwhile, a pulsed dye laser can remove redness and broken blood vessels due to excessive sun exposure. Other laser treatments also target the melanin pigment to reduce sun spots.
Research shows that chemical peels are a safe and effective treatment for sun-damaged skin. They use a chemical solution to remove damaged cells from the top layers of the skin, making it smoother and softer.
A chemical peel can be done on its own or combined with other cosmetic treatments. Options for chemical substances include glycolic acid, salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acid, or trichloroacetic acid. There are different depths to choose from: light, medium, and deep.
For light to medium chemical peels, you may need to undergo the treatment more than once to achieve the desired results. Deeper peels provide more dramatic results but may require a longer recovery time.
Chemical peels are ideal for those with wrinkles, acne scars, age spots, and actinic keratoses. This treatment also helps improve the tone and texture of the skin.
While permanent sun damage is irreversible, there is still something you can do to repair and revive your skin. At Revivology, we can help you address any specific skin concerns due to sun damage and aging.