While a suntan was once thought to be a healthy glow, we now know it is anything but healthy. Sun exposure can cause premature aging, like lines, wrinkles and age spots (areas of dark melanin on the skin), and even skin cancer, which can be deadly. So if you once slathered yourself in baby oil to bake in the sun and now live to regret it, we’ve got you covered. We consulted with a top area dermatologist who revealed the best ways to treat signs of previous sun damage, and prevent further damage. While aging of the skin is inevitable, you can slow the process considerably with attentive care.
Prevent with easy, inexpensive solutions
As we age, explains Susan Dorsey, MD of Carilion Dermatology, we lose our skin proteins—some of this is due to the natural aging process, but a lot is due to sun exposure. If you’re concerned with anti-aging skin care, your first line weapons of choice should be sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. A daily moisturizer followed by sunscreen (or a combined product with both) is essential, rain or shine, reminds Dr. Dorsey. Choose a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, reapplied every two hours, especially if sweating or swimming. A broad spectrum sunscreen will block both UVA and UVB rays—UVA rays penetrate deeply into skin and cause more wrinkling, while UVB rays penetrate superficially, and cause more of the pigment changes of aging. Keep a tube of sunscreen in your car and your purse and you won’t be caught without it. A wide-brimmed hat will provide extra protection—look for one with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor), as UPF fabrics block rays. Don’t forget about exposed areas other than the face, like ears, the tops of the hands and feet and the back of your legs—areas that often get missed with a swipe of sunscreen.
Revamp your daily skin care routine
For aging skin, a mild cleanser that removes makeup and doesn’t strip the skin of natural oils is best. Dermatologists have long recommended Cetaphil, which is available at any drugstore. Many drugstores and chains make a generic version of Cetaphil, which is fine as well. After patting the face dry (don’t get rough with the towel), follow with a moisturizer. A good bet is a moisturizer that contain hyaluronic acid. It is naturally found in the skin and acts as a sponge, absorbing up to 1,000 times its weight in water, leaving skin more supple and smooth. Moisturizers with added sunscreen can simplify the routine, or moisturizer without sunscreen needs to be followed with a broad spectrum sunscreen after it soaks in. If you want to step it up a notch, add vitamin C to your morning skincare—a vitamin C serum prior to your moisturizer/sunscreen is a common recommendation by dermatologists. A favorite serum of beauty editors and dermatologists is C E Ferulic by Skinceuticals, but other, cheaper options exist, too.
At nighttime, follow your cleanser with a retinol-containing product, says Dr. Dorsey. Retinol, a form of vitamin A, is often referred to as the gold standard of anti-aging treatments. Retinoids decrease fine lines and wrinkles by stimulating production of collagen and elastin and increasing cell turnover. Collagen gives skin strength, while elastin enables your skin to stretch and bounce back, and both decrease with age. Differin gel is a retinoid product that was previously prescription-only, but you can now find Differin gel in the drugstore aisles. Stronger products, like Retin-A, are available by prescription from a dermatologist.
In-office treatments: injections and lasers
If you are ready to augment good daily skin care with more powerful anti-aging treatments, many options exist. Two popular injectables are Botox and dermal fillers, which go by brand names like Juvederm. Botox temporarily relaxes the muscles in the face that lead to creasing of the skin over time. Botox is often used between the eyebrows and for forehead lines and crow’s feet (laugh lines). Dermal fillers can be used to soften wrinkles, plump the lips, or add volume to the face. As the face ages it can lose fat, which makes creases and grooves more prominent. Dermatologists recommend Botox every three months to maintain results. Dermal fillers are every six to 12 months, so if you go down this path, be prepared to maintain.
“Procedures like lasers or peels will stimulate new collagen,” says Dr. Dorsey. Collagen is one of those key proteins that keep skin looking young—when a procedure causes intentional injury to the skin, the skin responds by making collagen. Dermatologists use procedures like Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) to treat brown spots, redness, age spots and broken blood vessels. It is non-invasive and safe, and uses multiple wavelengths of light to treat sun-induced skin damage. It can be a great way to remove pigment on the face, help with fine lines and wrinkling and reduce redness. Two to four treatments spaced one month apart are common, with maintenance treatments every six to 12 months.
There are many different types of laser devices, such as CO2 laser resurfacing, which can tackle deeper wrinkling. However, patients can expect some down time following the procedure. Chemical peels and microneedling are other procedure options—chemical peels use topical chemicals, while microneedling involves the use of a device with small needles up to two millimeters that penetrate the skin and induce collagen regrowth.
If your face does not reflect the youthful vibrancy you feel, devote some extra morning and evening time to applying the products the dermatologists say will make a true difference. If you need more anti-aging power, set up an appointment with a dermatologist who can guide you on a tailored path to achieve the results you want. And enjoy the sunshine, but do it safely!