As the bloom of Spring is upon us, with the sunlit days lengthening and summer fast-approaching, it is important to focus our attention on sun-care for the skin. The sun’s energy is in some ways healthful, as it promotes the formation of Vitamin D, and many feel that getting some “color” washes away any remaining sallow traces of winter. Unfortunately, solar radiation in the form of UVA and UVB rays are extremely aging. The mechanism of “photoaging” is predicated on the formation of free radicals; hydroxide and superoxide radicals will bind to and damage the “youthful” proteins within the skin (collagen and elastin), and will consequently accelerate a tired, aged look. The short-term benefits of a deep tan are outweighed by the long-term detriment to the skin.
Does this mean that we should completely avoid sun? Of course not. We should simply embrace the sun with appropriate moderation and care.
Prior to sun exposure, sunblock should be the first and foremost consideration. SPF of 30 or higher with broad-band (UVA and UVB) protection is integral to pre-empt the sun’s damaging rays. Sunblocks can be “chemical” screens, “physical” blocks, and combination chemical and physical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens, such as Parsol 1789, and physical sunblocks, such as micronized zinc oxide and micronized titanium dioxide, can work alone or in concert to protect skin from the sun’s damaging rays. Antioxidants – products that contain antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, green tea and others – work synergistically with sunblocks, and can effectively scavenge free radicals associated with sun exposure to minimize damage to the collagen and elastic proteins of the skin.
Following sun exposure, liberal moisture and antioxidants are important in maintaining skin hydration (to counter the sun’s desiccating effects), and antioxidants will continue to scavenge free radicals.
When dark spots and hyperpigmented areas of the skin ensue after a season, or many seasons, of sun exposure, products that minimize and balance pigment such as hydroquinone, kojic acid and retinoids (derivatives of Vitamin A such as retinol and retin-A) will lighten hyperpigmentation (brown discolorations of the skin) and will promote collagen restoration.
Chemical peels that incorporate alpha and beta hydroxy-acids, TCA (trichloroacetic acid), phenol, and Jessner’s solution help to both exfoliate the damaged outer layer of skin (the stratum corneum) as well as to lighten dark pigmentation associated with the effects of the sun.
Laser-Light Treatments such as Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is a no-down-time light-energy treatment that can dramatically decrease pigmentation due to sun damage.
Fractional Photothermolysis: CO2 laser treatments that are fractionated, known as fractional photothermolysis, treat sun-damaged skin with a much more rapid recovery than older laser modalities. Fractional laser treatments, such as Active FX, Deep FX and Fraxel, not only decrease brown spots and balance sun-associated discolorations, but produce a reorganization of the collagen layers of your own skin and result in a tightened and rejuvenated appearance.
Although plastic surgery is rarely indicated to directly treat sun damage, when the laxity and inelasticity resulting from sun damage is severe enough to have an architectural effect on the skin, plastic surgery procedures such as face lift, neck lift, eyelid lift, and fat transfer can restore youth and beauty to the face.
There are so many at-home as well as minimally invasive treatments that are both pre-emptive and therapeutic. Of course, an ounce of prevention is always more valuable than a pound of cure. When the effects of photoaging do manifest themselves, chemical peels, laser light treatments (IPL), and fractional CO2 laser are very effective at reinvigorating the skin and at minimizing the signs of sun-drenched skin. Enjoy the sun responsibly this summer!