411: Sun Damage and Age Spots


There has been a lot of conflicting information about the dangers of the sun over the years. Having the optimal glow was often something people craved and was a representation of status. Remember the days of your parents bathing in oil at the beach to achieve that perfect, deep glow? Only recently has there been more research and information revealing the serious damage caused by sun exposure.

The dangers of skin cancer need to be taken seriously. It’s important to pay attention to changes in your skin. Sun spots, pigmentation changes, and leathery patches are something you should discuss with your skin care professional.

What Causes Sun Damage

The biggest culpurit of skin damage is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. UV radiation is invisible to the naked eye, but definitely impacts the skin in multiple ways. There’s two different components that raise hell for your skin, UVA and UVB rays.

UVA rays are long-wave solar rays that are able to penetrate the skin’s epidermal and dermal layers. They are main cause of sun spots, wrinkles and leathery skin. UVB rays damage the epidermis and cause that dreaded sunburn or reddening effect on the skin. Scientists have long believed that UVB rays play the main role in the development of skin cancer but, in recent years, they have discovered that UVA rays play a significant role, too.

Both UVA and UVB rays cause damage that can lead to fine lines and wrinkles. When the rays penetrate skin, they damage collagen and elastin, forcing the body to fight back by producing a large amount of metallop­roteinases. Metallop­roteinase is an enzyme that normally helps to produce and repair collagen; however, sometimes the process does not work correctly, and the enzymes wind up degrading the collagen even further. The result of all this action is skin that is not rebuilt correctly, which forms wrinkles.

It’s no surprise that lighter skin tends to show the most visible signs of sun damage. It’s important to work with a professional to understand the best regimen to restore your skin. While you can’t turn back the clock when it comes to skin exposure, professional skin care treatments can help restore a healthy look and feel.

Some of the treatments available include:

Chemical peels. Chemical peel treatments are a good option for bringing new life to sun-damaged skin. These peels utilize various solutions and strengths for different treatment levels and results. Your aesthetician will customize your chemical peel treatment and provide a special regimen for the best results.

Chemical peels can vary in strength, ranging from very minor solutions that require little to no downtime, to stronger peels that may require a few days to heal.

Intense pulsed light (IPL) photofacial. IPL treatments have become very popular as a tool to erase sun spots and fine lines. An IPL photofacial uses a series of gentle light pulses that target the pigment present in sun spots, as well as other color irregula­rities. As the light travels through the layers of skin, heat from the light causes damage to the abnormally pigmented areas. This will kick-start the body’s natural healing process. The spot will either become darker and flake off, or it will be naturally absorbed by the body. IPL photofacials also stimulate collagen growth to reduce fine lines.

Fractional laser. For a more aggressive treatment for sun damage, there are fractional laser procedures. A fractional laser treats sun spots, wrinkles and fine lines with the use of a laser beam that is split (fractio­nated) into thousands of microscopic beams of light energy. The pixilated light penetrates the dermis and generates enough heat to stimulate natural collagen production and new cell growth. In addition to reducing the appearance of sun damage, fractional lasers can also help treat acne scars, stretch marks and melasma.

When skin is treated using a fraction­alized approach, the surrounding skin is left intact, which helps speed up the healing process. Typically, you will see results after one treatment, but a series of three-to-five treatments will provide optimal results.

Radiofre­quency. Services that harness the power of radiofre­quency waves are also very effective for helping remove sun spots, reduce wrinkles and tighten skin. A radiofre­quency procedure works by sending heat energy into the dermal layer of the skin to stimulate the production of collagen. Unlike lasers, radiofre­quency treatments rely on the absorption of radio waves and not light, which makes these services safe for all skin tones.

Hydroquinone. Hydroquinone is a topical treatment used to lighten skin. It works by inhibiting the production of tyrosinase, which is an enzyme that helps to produce melanin. When used alone, hydroquinone treatments may not show visible results for several weeks. This type of treatment is best when combined with a regimen of chemical peels and/or light-based procedures. Additionally, it is a good idea to alternate between hydroquinone and a non-hydro­quinone melanin-inhibitor for best results.

An Ounce of Prevention

Even with an increased level of skin cancer awareness, some people still refuse to give up their tans. The American Academy of Dermatology studied teens’ attitudes about the sun—59% of teens surveyed thought that in general, people look healthier with a tan.

If you don’t want to give up your tan, consider self-tanners. Advanced self-tanners and spray tans are easy and accessible, and they can provide great natural-looking results without the dangers of sun exposure.

It’s also important to protect yourself from the dangers of UV radiation, there are tools you can use in addition to wearing a broad-spectrum sun protectant of SPF 30 or higher. For example, did you know that every day the National Weather Service forecasts the UV index for the following day? The UV index shows how much UV radiation reaches the earth’s surface. A UV index reading of two or lower means that there is low danger for the average person, while an index reading of 11+ means there is an extreme risk. To see the full scale, visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website (www.epa.gov) to see how this chart may help you to help you achieve beautiful, clear, healthy-looking skin for years to come.


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