Can You Actually Fix Sun Damage?

Derms, your mom, and your best friend who moonlights as a skincare advisor will all tell you: Sunscreen is your first line of defense against dark spots or premature fine lines and wrinkles from making unwanted cameos. 

The logic? It’s easier to prevent a problem from happening than to fix it later, but that advice isn’t helpful when discoloration shows up on your nose, and you don’t know what to do about it. So, what do you do when the damage is already done? Is there actually a way to fix sun damage? 

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When we’re specfically talking about dark spots, or sun spots, the answer is yes. However, it’s not as simple as slapping on some cream and calling it a day. That’s because sun damage doesn’t just consist of sun spots (or concentrations of melanin produced by melanocytes cells) and fine lines. Sun damage can also encompass serious, potentailly deadly issues at a cellular level, which could lead to skin cancer. So, we should preface again by saying staying out of the sun and wearing SPF is your safest and best option. 

But if there are dark spots that bother you and you want them gone, Dr. Ariel Ostad, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and skin cancer specialist, says lasers are your best bet. 

“Lasers are an effective treatment to completely remove sun spots – we usually use Fraxel or the PicoWay laser to lighten spots and even out the skin tone with beams of light in specific wavelengths,” he explains. “Skin initially gets darker right after the treatment, followed by the lesion crusting over and shedding. After two weeks, the patient can expect noticeably clearer skin as a new layer is able to grow.”

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That said, you can still always develop more, so yet another reason to nip it in the bud and wear an SPF of 30 or higher. Laser treatments can also cost an upwards of $1,000, which is a hell of a lot more expensive than a $30 bottle of sunscreen. 

While perhaps not as effective as lasers, Dr. Rita V. Linkner, a board-certified dermatologist, says that “quality medical-grade skincare that involves active ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and tricholoracetic acid, along with retinol topicals,” can all help to renew the skin.

At the end of the day, Dr. Linkner says in order to prevent sun damage from happening, she recommends all of her clients to use an appropriate sunscreen, and a vitamin C product, daily. “My go-to sunscreen for the work week is Alastin’s Hydratint,” she says. “I like this one in particular because it carries a blocker of infrared light, which is shown to cause melasma in the skin.”

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When she knows she’s spending more time outside, she loves EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 “This SPF level is more appropriate for when I spend more time outdoors. It’s also the same sunscreen I use on my kids, this way I am only reaching for one product in my purse on the weekends. As far as vitamin C, it helps to photostabilize sunscreen and should be used in conjunction with your SPF daily. My favorite to recommed is Revisions Vitamin C Lotion.”

And if sun spots are bothering you to begin with, it might be a good idea to make an appintment with your dermatologist to let them assess the damage and rule out anything more serious.

“It’s important to have annual skin exams performed by physicians to detect early signs of skin cancer,” says Dr. Ostad. “Between these exams, you should be paying attention to any moles on your body to monitor for changes that ABCDE’s of skin cancer (A is for Asymmetry, B is for an irregular border, C is for color variation, D is for diameter greater than 6mm, and E is for evolving from your other moles or is independently changing in size, shape or color).

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