Can You Reverse Sun Damage?
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Can You Reverse Sun Damage?

How to turn back the clock on too much sun exposure.

Wearing sun protection has become second nature in our society: We're all well versed in the dangers of the sun (skin cancer, premature aging) so we welcome SPF onto our skin. But what about the years before the sun scare, when tanning was common and thought of as healthy? Or what happens when, despite our best efforts, we end up with a burn? Here, we clear up the confusion on what can be done to reverse and minimize sun damage:

How Sun Damages Your Skin

When your skin absorbs the sun's rays, those rays actually damage the DNA in your skin's cells. This damage causes the cells to become dysfunctional, says Michele Grodberg, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Englewood, New Jersey. Dysfunctional cells don't behave properly, the results of which include a reduction in the production of collagen and elastin (the substances in the skin that support it and make it plump and healthy), a thinning of the top layer of skin, a halt in the skin's natural ability to slough off its dead layers, and a rise in pigmentation. In the worst cases, these dysfunctional cells can become cancerous.

What You Can Do to Reverse the Damage

Believe it or not, there are several types of products and procedures you can use to reverse sun damage. They include:

  • Wearing sunscreen religiously. By doing so, you'll protect your skin from further damage, and halt any early changes in the skin that may be occurring. In fact, a study in Australia showed that simply using sunscreen can reverse the activity of precancerous cells. Use an SPF of at least 15 daily.
  • Using topical retinoids. Prescription Vitamin A products like Retin-A have been proven to normalize the damaged cells in sun-damaged skin, says Dr. Grodberg. Using Retin-A can plump up the cells in the top layer of skin, revive depleted collagen and elastin, increase blood flow to the skin, and slough off dull, dead skin cells. While there are OTC vitamin A-derivative products, prescription Retin-A gives the most appreciable results.
  • Trying topical green tea and Vitamin C. These ingredients are antioxidants, which neutralize the toxic by-products created in the skin when it's exposed to sun, says. Dr. Grodberg. And according to the Amercian Academy of Dermatology, studies of topical green tea have shown it to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells.
  • Seeing a dermatologist for in-office treatments. To combat the texture changes and pigmentation spots that come with sun damage, a dermatologist can perform microdermabrasion and superficial peels. Intense light-pulse laser treatments can address these changes, too.

What to Do If You Get a Burn

  • Cool the skin. Cool compresses of water and milk, or a chilled aloe vera gel, will help make your burning skin more comfortable.
  • Take aspirin or Advil. For more serious burns, take an aspirin or Advil, which reduces the pain associated with sunburn and can help minimize inflammation.
  • Try an OTC steroid cream. Steroids reduce inflammation, so applying a bit to sunburned skin will help soothe it. Caution: Topical steroids can thin the skin if used too often.