There is hope, don't worry. Sun damage is actually one of the more easy conditions to treat. Unlike melasma or pigmented acne scarring, sun damage can be controlled and lifted to the surface with either a laser or a chemical agent. However it must be treated with CAUTION! There are these things called melanocytes in your skin that give it it's color, but they get excited when there's anything administered topically to the skin with a low pH(like a chemical peel) AND they also become excited when exposed to the sun (or light source like a laser) . So the damage can actually get out of control and wind up worse if you try to treat the issue without first "talking" to the melanocytes. The most important thing to do is calm them down before treating the skin with a light source or a stimulating chemical peel. Ingredients such as hydroquinone and kojic acid can be applied to the skin several weeks prior to treatment - to keep those pesky melanocytes under control. These ingredients basically tell the sun-damaged cells to remain calm and stay focused. . After pre-treating, the fun can begin.
First you have to determine what kind of sun damage you have and this will help you choose a course of treatment. If you have clearly defined, flat dark spots on the skin and your skin is significantly lighter than the spots, you're most likely a candidate for the Alexandrite Laser - Pigmented Lesion Removal Treatment. This laser loves melanin - so the darker the spot the better. Some spots can even disappear immediately so this is a great treatment if you want results quickly. If the spots are somewhat lighter, it may take a few treatments to lift the spots safely to the surface. Full Face treatment is $300, or $50 per spot. You'll have only a little downtime; the spots that were treated look like little bug bites for a few days. After that, the residual dark spot that has been lifted actually sloughs off within a few days and, voila, no more lesion!
Now, If your spots are more like freckles and appear all over, like a mask (where they all kind of blend together), you're probably a better candidate for either a series of chemical peels or a fractional laser to resurface your skin. Depending on your budget and how quickly you'd like results is what will determine the route you'll take.
Firstly, it's important to know how chemical peels work if this is what you're more comfortable with. Chemical Peels are designed to incorporate acids other ingredients together with the goal of burning your skin. This is a controlled burning of course, but you must know that burning is the only way to actually trigger change in the skin. Whether you want to change sun damaged areas, wrinkles, textural scarring - whatever the condition, we must stimulate change by burning the old skin and encouraging new skin to produce. Especially when it comes to sun damage (after pre-treating of course). Imagine after you burn yourself with hot water - a few days pass and you've developed a blister, right? The skin that has formed is comprised of collagen, or the protein in your skin that gives it it's structure, and also a whole bunch of new, happy vulnerable cells to repair the wound. Same process goes for a chemical peel - we burn the skin to tell it to produce that pretty protein we all adore (collagen) and new, untainted cells.
Secondly, chemical peels will continue to address pigmented areas and all types of concerns over time by lifting the damage cells to the surface. It's crucial to be using your retinols, lightening ingredients and antioxidants at home to assist this process, and to stay committed to an every 2-4 week peel program, for at least a year (if your sun damage is significant). Remember how long it took for this damage to show - so it's going to take a while to repair it. Don't forget this and all of a sudden become discouraged. This is possibly the most frustrating aspect of being in my position - I will always explain that if you are on a budget, or if you have a lot of conditions to treat, chemical peels are a wonderful route to take; however, know that the process is going to take TIME and EFFORT, on your part as well. The results will be rewarding if the expectations are realistic, and if we are patient and observant. Also it's important that the CORRECT and recommended products are used properly at home. So, chemical peels are a fantastic way to go, especially if you are looking to treat a myriad of conditions, if you have an all over sun damaged appearence, and you're on a budget. Theyve come a long way with their administration as well - they are a lot more luxurious and not as painful as in the years past. You're able to leave the office with an actual glow to your skin, which is desirable anyways.
An ideal combination chemical peel for sun damaged skin is a blend of Kojic and Lactic acids, both of which are designed to exfoliate and lighten rough-looking skin. You won't shed much skin, but that's not necessarily the goal. Just be sure to hydrate your skins barrier and protect it with SPF through out the course of treatment.
Now, if you're looking for a more expedited treatment for diminishing that all over sun-damage look, without the commitment of chemical peels, the Clear + Brilliant Perméa is the latest technology. This is a 1927nm fractional laser for rejuvenation and pigmentation. The Clear + Brilliant Perméa is designed by the makers of Fraxel to address early signs of aging, melasma and sun damage. It is optimized to bring you a brighter, more even skin tone and enhances your skins permeability. You'll only experience a pink glow for a few hours, and as far as downtime, well, that's it! No peeling, no scabbing, no bug-bite-like bumps. Easy. At $300 per treatment, this skin-saving modality really is like no other; and if you're on-the-go, with a desire for ACTUALLY changing your skin, the investment is a no-brainer.
So in conclusion, there are are several routes you can take to lighten your existent sun damage. It most certainly depends on how deep and how prolific the damage is, your budget, your expectations, and your commitment time. My suggestion for most people is to start off with a commitment to chemical peels paired with medical microdermabrasion - this way it gives the skin a chance to begin the healing and repairing process while it's also being nurtured. After 3 chemical peels, begin a laser program and start enhancing your treatments with a more advanced at home care routine as well.
And, as always, it is crucial to be wearing a broad spectrum physical sun block, even during the winter months. Your skin will never improve if you are skipping this step. Also, don't forget about your hands and decollete, these are a sure way sign to tell your age. Try to keep a sunblock in your car and apply to your hands and chest before a long drive.
If you follow these tips you'll be on your way to improving your existent sun damage and preventing future harm as well. Good luck and stay healthy!
Brittany Bray, B.A., LMA
Aesthetics Director, Licensed Aesthetician
Lifestyle Medical Spa
Richboro, PA 18954