Can You Really Reverse Sun Damage?
via Women’s Health
The damage has been done. Now a dermatologist explains what, if anything, you can do about it.
Applying sunscreen is no longer reserved for a trip to the beach; any skin-smart woman knows that it should be part of your regular morning routine. And yet, you probably haven’t had a daily sunscreen habit your entire life. It poses the question: Can you reverse the damage that’s already been done? We asked a dermatologist.
Can You Ever Fully Protect Yourself From Sun Damage?
Let’s talk about an average day. You applied sunscreen with SPF 30 (or more) and spent about two hours total in the sun (the maximum recommended amount of time you should be al fresco after applying SPF). Is damage still possible? Helen Torok, M.D., the medical director for the Dermatology and Surgery Center at Trillium Creek in Ohio, says yes. “Because UVA rays penetrate the skin and can cause damage on a deeper level, any exposure to the sun can result in damage. The only way to fully protect yourself from the sun is by blocking the sun’s rays with a hat, sunglasses, and head-to-toe protective clothing.” She also recommends an SPF of 60 or 70. “It’s essential to know the SPF of your sunscreen, to ensure it protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and to be mindful of the quantity applied. A thin layer of SPF 30 may realistically only provide the protection of SPF 10.” The rule of thumb is to apply a shot glass-sized amount to cover the entire body.
How Can You Tell if Damage’s Been Done?
“The skin around the eye area, which is the thinnest part of the body, is often where the visible signs of sun damage appear first,” says Torok. “Initial signs can begin with loss of elasticity and lead to more severe symptoms like large blackheads around the eyes.” Other signs are brown spots, loss of elasticity, fine lines, and a dull and dry sallowness to the skin. “The sallowness results from a thickening of the skin’s keratin layer leading to an overall loss of skin radiance.”
Is There Invisible Damage?
In short, yes. To detect damage not visible to the naked eye, such as DNA damage, collagen damage, and a thickening of the keratin layer, Torok recommends a biopsy. “These signs can start to appear as early as 20 years old for those who use tanning beds or spend extended time in the sun.”
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Can You Turn Back the Sundial?
If you can’t fully protect, is it possible to heal? (Because let’s be honest, when are we fully covered from head to toe?) Luckily, Torok says yes. “Immediately after the exposure has occurred, I recommend takingHeliocare in the morning and evening and once a day for the following week to help heal and protect.” The oral capsule contains antioxidants that eliminate free radicals in the body produced from sun exposure. “[I also] recommend using products containing retinol, like Retin-A Micro—it promotes faster cell turn over rate, decreasing long-term damage—or a DNA repair system, like NEOVA DNA Total Repair ($99, neova.com), which effectively repairs and protects against DNA damage.”
Although sun damage that’s just occurred is easier to counteract, you can also take action if you’re a reformed sun junkie. Torok suggests Intense Pulse Light (IPL), photodynamic treatments, or chemical peels. “IPL is a device that delivers specific wave light energy to the skin,” she says. “As we age [and procure sun damage], our skin cells aren’t as efficient or as youthful, so the IPL turns them on and promotes healthier, radiant, youthful skin.” Photodynamic therapy actually repairs damaged cells. “While it eradicates precancerous cells, it also heals and stimulates new healthier cells and collagen.” Chemical peels can act in a similar manner if they are more potent. “A 35-50 percent TCA peel or a phenol peel can duplicate a PDT treatment,” says Torok.
“Results may be seen as early as two sessions with IPL and photodynamic treatments,” says Torok. For chemical peels, you’ll see results after three. “The more damage a person has, the more noticeable the improvements are from these treatments.” Before scheduling an appointment, she recommends asking your dermatologist a few questions. “Ask for before-and-after photos and examples of results that have been achieved through the treatments. See what percentage of patients receive results and determine if a maintenance program is needed.” For example, some peels require no recovery time, while others will leave your skin red and flaking for up to five days. Each dermatologist has their own procedures, so it pays to do your research.
Photodynamic treatments range from $500 to $700. Chemical peels can range from $90 to $125, based on their strength level. IPL ranges from $100 to $800, depending on how big of an area you’re treating.
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