Posted on Oct 10, 2019, 9 p.m.
80% of visible aging is caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Those fine lines and age spots are likely to be from sun damage, not by aging itself, lack of sleep, stress, or drinking more than you care to admit to doing.
"If you’re not protecting against the sun, then no need to look for products to treat age spots and other forms of hyperpigmentation, as you’re fighting a losing battle!" – Dr. David Lortscher, a board certified dermatologist.
At any time of the year there are a few rules to follow that will help to fend off the effects of sun damage. 1) Most dermatologists recommend using a broad spectrum sunscreen every day all year to protect against UVA and UVA damage. 2) Protect your skin from the sun by covering up as it can make acne hyperpigmentation worse. 3) Be careful of the products that you use on the skin as some can make your skin even more sensitive to sun damage.
Sun damage does more harm than the burn, it is below the surface, and the damage is cumulative. This isn’t just about burns either, artificial tanning is officially causing cancer, and sunbathing is just as deadly.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends limiting sun exposure “especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense,” covering up with clothing, hats, and sunglasses, and of course, sunscreen. Around 95% of the sun's rays making it to your skin are UVA, glass and cloudy skies don’t stop these rays. Avoiding going outside is not really practical, so be sure to cover up.
For those worried that they are not getting enough vitamin D, have a discussion with you doctor. You will be surprised at how much natural vitamin D you will still be getting even if you cover up or use sunscreen. Vitamin D can also be obtained through supplements without increasing exposure to UV rays. “Many people can get the vitamin D they need from foods or vitamin supplements,” explains Dr. Lortscher.
Prevention will always be the best cure to anything, and when it comes to sun damage there is no exception. There are options to help treat photoaging, the trick is to commit to protecting your skin before it is too late.
Before you starting using one of those treatments for rough texture, hyperpigmentation or fine lines ask yourself is you are avoiding peak sun hours? Are you covering up exposed skin? Are you using an SPF broad spectrum sunscreen? If you are, then you can move on to trying some steps to help reversing sun damage.
Niacinamide is readily available in many serums and moisturizers, this a potent agent that has been shown to help minimize dark spots and hyperpigmentation, according to Lortscher. It has been shown to act as an antioxidant, improve epidermal barrier function, decrease skin hyperpigmentation, reduce fine lines, reduce wrinkles, decrease redness and blotchiness, decrease skin yellowing, and improve skin elasticity. “It works by blocking the pigment from surfacing on the outer layer of skin and may also decrease pigment production,” says Lortscher.
Azelaic acid is a top ingredient in antiaging and anti-acne products, although it is not as well known as counterparts such as retinoids and hydroxy acids. Azelaic acid has antioxidant properties and is less irritating than tretinoin, and its anti-inflammatory properties are so potent it is used as a treatment for rosacea. “This can help reduce marks left by acne,” says Lortscher. “An FDA-approved prescription ingredient works by lightening any dark spots left by acne inflammation or sun exposure by slowing the production of melanin, and by blocking abnormal melanocytes.”
Vitamin A derivatives such as topical retinols and retinoids work to fade hyperpigmenation by increasing epidermal cell turnover along with other mechanisms; retinols may be available over the counter and prescription like tretinoin. “Decades of research confirm tretinoin as the “gold standard” in topical treatment for fighting acne and clogged pores, as well as reducing fine lines, unwanted pigmentation, and improving skin texture,” says Lortscher.
Vitamin C is a great addition to just about any routine, and it also makes a great addition to skincare and as a helper to a daily sunscreen to enrich protection efforts. “This is a super ingredient that has antiaging benefits and repairs existing skin damage. It blocks damage before it even happens by neutralizing free radicals. It also helps rebuild your skin’s structure by stimulating collagen production, a protein that makes up your connective tissue and gives your skin its structure,” mentions Lorschter.
“Alpha hydroxy acids can help reduce hyperpigmentation. It’s recommended to use these in the evening, with a sunscreen used in the morning,” says Lortscher. “Start just once weekly, gradually increasing the frequency as tolerated. The most commonly used AHAs include glycolic acid (derived from sugarcane), lactic acid (derived from milk), and mandelic acid (derived from bitter almonds).”
After doing your best to protect your skin if you are still battling new dark spots cross check the ingredients in your products, and monitor your skin care routine more carefully. Some discoloration can last for a few weeks to months due to post inflammatory hyperpigmentation that is caused by injury to the skin from a cut, burn, psoriasis, or acne. Be sure that none of the ingredients can cause photosensitivity as well, even if applied at night this won’t negate their photosensitivity properties by morning.
Vitamin A derivatives and AHAs can increase sun sensitivity, stick to using these at night and be sure to cover up when you go outside. Vitamin C, azelaic acid, beta hydroxy acids, and salicylic acid do not increase sun sensitivity; these can be applied in the day to help shed dead dull upper layers of the skin to reveal smoother and more fragile underlying skin.
Sun damage is more than just the visible marks, spots, and signs of aging, too much can actually be carcinogenic, and may suppress certain activities of the immune system to play a key role in the development of skin cancer. UVA and UVB are part of team cancer, especially if in excess, they will work together to make it happen if you are not careful. UVB will burn the skin, while UVA penetrates deep into the skin with no immediate warning signs.
UVA rays damage the skin to cause wrinkles, drooping, loss of elasticity, thinner and more translucent skin, broken capillaries, liver or age spots, dry skin, roughness, leathery skin, and skin cancers. But there’s more there is also damage at the molecular level, UVA radiation creates damaging free radicals; this means that tanned skin is actually the opposite of healthy skin, it is a sign that the body is trying to protect itself from further damage.
“Prolonged UVA exposure damages the collagen fibers in the skin,” explains Lortscher. “It’s not just long days on the beach causing visible aging. UVA exposure happens every time you walk to the car, work outside on cloudy days, or even sit by a window.”
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.