The jury is out on whether you can reverse all sun damage on the face with cosmetic treatments, but we have a few tricks up our sleeve for just that. At ENRICH Clinic, we have a set of pretty great tools in our arsenal, some which can remove sun-damaged skin cells.
Before we get into reversing sun damage, we need to be on the same page with just what sun-damaged skin is.
What is sun-damaged skin?
When you expose your skin to the sun, ultraviolet (UV) rays penetrate your skin, entering the cells and send signals to your skin cells. Not all UV rays are damaging – just UVB rays.
In response to this damaging influx of UVB energy, specialized skin cells called melanocytes produce a pigment, melanin. Melanin is the dark skin pigment that makes darker skin tones and in lighter skin tones, causes a tan to develop. Melanin is responsible for freckles and moles – and melanoma.
The little skin cell that got a tan…
Melanin production occurs when the DNA in a skin cell is damaged. The DNA damage is the SOS of a skin cell to the melanocytes: “Produce more pigment!” they cry, “More! More! We’re dying here!”
The skin cell lays gasping while the melanocytes get to work, trying to prevent further damage by building a physical barrier of pigment in the skin cells. This pigment helps protect against future sun, but the damage to the DNA in the cell has occurred. That’s how the melanocyte knew what to do in the first place.
A tan is never a healthy sign for your skin cells – it’s a cry for help. It just means you’ve been out in the sun (which may seem like you’ve been on a relaxing tropical holiday, hence the association with relaxation and health).
Is darker skin protective, or does it mean I’ve got damaged skin cells?
In darker skin tones, there is already a base layer of melanin present from birth that protects the cells from increased UVB damage. Darker skin tones still have a skin cancer risk and in some cases, a higher risk of certain types of melanoma.
Darker skin does not exempt you from skin damage from UVB rays (though darker skin types don’t get as much skin cancer as lighter skin tones, plus darker skin ages better regardless of sun exposure).
You still have to wear sunscreen!
Sun-damaged skin makes you wrinkly faster
The more sun you are exposed to, the worse the damage. Excessive UV exposure may result in the production of certain enzymes in the skin that breaks down collagen and elastin fibres. These fibres are the strength and structure of your skin and are the only things holding you up. Without collagen and elastin, your thinning skin starts to sag and wrinkle.
Another problematic occurrence is the increase in a specific growth factor that increases the proliferation of blood vessels, resulting in very sun-damaged skin appearing with a map of veins across it.
Sun-damaged skin can look fine from the outside, but once you put it under a Woods lamp, all the sun damage appears. This damage will keep appearing as the years wear on, as pigmentation spots, wrinkles and sagging.
The big sun that got a bad reputation
We shouldn’t completely hide from the sun. We need sunshine to cause the chemical reaction in our skin that results in vitamin D production. Vitamin D is essential for our immune system and bones, and we should remember this in our attempts to cover up and block the sun’s rays.
If you don’t get any sun or are always fully protected, consider getting tested regularly for vitamin D levels and using a supplement. Speak to your healthcare provider.
Reversing sun damage in the skin
‘Reversing’ may not be the best term here, since that’s not necessarily the process that occurs in the skin when we treat sun damage. Sun damage may have gone deep.
When we treat sun-damaged skin, we are usually removing the damaged or pigmented skin cells and promoting the function of the skin. These advanced skin treatments are done at the clinic only, so do require appointments and in some cases, an outlay of money and recovery time.
However, we can remove much of the sun damage from your face in our clinic, sometimes in just one treatment.
Can skin cells repair DNA damage?
Other animal species can repair DNA damage, but humans, not really. Non-mammals have a photolyase enzyme that can remove damaged lesions; however, mammals don’t have this marvellous piece of kit.
The only protection we have from DNA damage to skin cells is to avoid direct UV rays without sunscreen or protective clothing. Wearing sunscreen is the only protection we have from damaging UV rays.
You do have some internal mechanisms to help, which is where antioxidants come in. Research shows that UV exposure is a significant trigger for the release of damaging free radicals. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help mitigate some of the damage. Antioxidants can help pick up some of those stray free radicals floating around, taking them out of circulation so they can’t keep doing damage.
That means a diet rich in high-antioxidant fresh fruit and vegetables.
Methods we use to reverse or remove sun-damaged skin
- Chemical peels
- Laser skin resurfacing
- Laser skin treatments
- Topical treatments
How chemical peels remove sun damage on the face
Chemical peels are a type of skin resurfacing using various ingredients to dissolve the outermost layers of skin. The depth of the peel depends on the ingredients used.
Benefits of chemical peels
- May remove sun-damaged and pigmented superficial skin cells
- Freshens complexion
- Improves texture and tone
- Can mitigate blemishes and redness
- Stimulates collagen production
- Deep clean skin – removes whiteheads and blackheads
- Helps control oil production
- Tends to be low or no downtime
- One or more treatments
- Peels are very affordable
How microdermabrasion removes sun damage on the face
Microdermabrasion is the gentle process of removing the topmost skin cells, revealing fresh new skin underneath. At ENRICH Clinic, we prefer to use the erbium laser for microdermabrasion as results are far superior to other abrasive dermabrasions on the market.
Benefits of microdermabrasion
- Helps remove damaged superficial skin cells
- Refreshes complexion
- Evens skin tone
- Improves skin texture
- Reduces the appearance of large pores
- Smooths blemishes, pigmentation and redness
- Stimulates collagen production to help firm skin
- Clears breakouts
- Helps control oil production
- Low or no downtime
- One treatment is excellent, but regular treatments improve results
- Microdermabrasion is gentle on skin
How laser skin resurfacing removes sun damage on the face
Using the laser to resurface skin is much like microdermabrasion, but much more in-depth. This type of treatment can come with some dramatic results, but also some downtime. Where microdermabrasion can be a lunchtime no-downtime treatment, laser resurfacing requires some home time.
Benefits of laser skin resurfacing
- Dramatic results
- Removes significant amounts of sun-damaged skin
- Improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Can soften deep grooves
- Completely resurfaces the skin to a deep level
- How laser skin treatments remove sun damage on the face
We also have laser skin treatments that target specific issues on the skin surface caused by sun damage such as pigmentation. Lasers can focus on any one particular skin problem with ease, allowing us to target the results of sun damage, rather than a full resurfacing treatment. Spots on the face, hands and chest are easy and painless to remove in the clinic.
Laser skin treatments work well with other treatments such as anti-wrinkle injections and dermal fillers.
Benefits of laser skin treatments
- Remove or reduce the prominence of single spots quickly
- No need for full laser resurfacing treatments
- Work on individual areas or full face and neck
- Efficiently treat the skin on the backs of the hands
- Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Stimulate collagen for overall firming (where required)
How topical treatments remove sun damage on the face
There are a handful of excellent high-strength topical treatments for sun-damaged skin only available through your clinic and cosmetic doctor. You require a prescription for these products, and therefore, a consultation will be required.
Benefits of topical treatments
- Reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Improve skin texture and tone
- Rejuvenate skin cells
- Strengthen skin
- Helps prevents degradation of collagen
- Improves skin barrier and skin thickness
Interested in the process of skin ageing and what science is doing about it? Read this scientific paper, Fighting Against Skin Ageing.
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