If you've ever sat out in the sun for a little too long and didn't reapply sunscreen, you may have developed sun damage, which can show up in the form of:
- Uneven pigmentation (skin coloring)
- Skin growths
- Melasma, a condition that causes dark patches on your skin
Unfortunately, sun damage is permanent, but there are different things you can do to reduce the appearance of the damage. Find out how you can treat—and prevent—skin that has been damaged from the sun and why sun damage is harmful to your health.
How Does the Sun Damage Your Skin?
The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is essential because it provides the body with vitamin D, which is necessary for bone development. But it can also cause health risks if you don't protect your skin. UV radiation can cause health problems like:
- Premature aging
- Skin cancer
How To Protect Your Skin From the Sun
Since sun exposure is unavoidable, there are different ways that you can protect yourself from harmful UV rays.
Sunscreen delivers essential sun protection. You should make sure that the sun protection factor (SPF) is 15 or higher. SPF determines how well the sunscreen can block UV rays, so the higher the number, the more protection.
Cover Your Skin and Eyes
You can also reduce your risk of sun damage by keeping your skin covered. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to cover as much of your skin as possible. Try to wear lighter-colored clothing, which provides more protection.
If the weather is hot and wearing long sleeves isn't the best option for the heat, use an umbrella, tree, or any shade you can find to block you from the sun.
Hats can provide even more coverage by covering your head, neck, and face. The best hat option for sun protection is one that has a brim all the way around and is made out of canvas or another tightly woven fabric.
Your eyes can also be damaged by the sun. Wearing sunglasses will protect your eyes and the skin surrounding your eyes from UV rays.
UV radiation can also come from artificial sources such as tanning beds and certain lasers. You should avoid indoor tanning—especially for adolescents and young adults with a higher risk of developing melanoma, the most harmful skin cancer.
Risk Factors for Sun-damaged Skin
Since every person is exposed to the sun, anyone can experience sun damage on their skin. But some people are at a higher risk of developing health issues. This includes:
- People with light-color skin, hair, and eyes
- People who take medications such as antibiotics, birth control pills, and products with benzoyl peroxide
- Anyone with a family member who has a history of skin cancer
- People over the age of 50
- People who have been sunburned
- People who spend a lot of time outdoors
Treatment for Sun-damaged Skin
Even though most sun damage to the skin is permanent, there are multiple treatments you can try to improve the appearance of your skin.
Retinoid is often used to improve the appearance of skin. Retinoids can improve the production of skin cells and improve fine lines, wrinkles, and overall skin tone.
Keep in mind that retinoids should be used at night or only during the day when you are using sun protection. Retinoids can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so protection is necessary.
Vitamin C Serum
The antioxidant properties of vitamin C may help prevent damage to the skin. One study found that topical vitamin C can reduce signs of aging and improve skin pigmentation.
If the sun damage to your skin has caused some changes in pigmentation or signs of aging, you may want to add a vitamin C serum to your everyday routine.
Chemical peels are another treatment option for sun-damaged skin and are usually done on the face, neck, and hands. Chemical peels are done by a healthcare provider and use a chemical solution to remove the outer, damaged layer of skin so that new. smoother skin can replace it.
It is possible to have temporary or permanent changes in skin color or scarring due to chemical peels. If you are considering chemical peels, talk to a healthcare provider.
In-office procedures such as laser surgery can also target sun damage. The lasers are used on sun-damaged skin to heat the cells. Laser surgery has the following benefits:
- Improves skin texture
- Reduces wrinkles, scars, and blemishes
- Removes sunspots
- Improves loose skin
A Quick Review
The UV rays from the sun can damage your skin and cause health problems like skin cancer. Even though sun damage to your skin is permanent, there are treatment options like retinoids, chemical peels, vitamin C serum, and laser surgery that can improve the appearance of your skin.
It is important to prevent sun damage by covering your skin and using sunscreen to reduce your risk of health issues like skin cancer.
American Academy of Dermatology. Sun damage and your skin.
American Academy of Dermatology. Melasma: overview.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. UV radiation.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sun safety.
American Academy of Dermatology. Retinoid or retinol?
Al-Niaimi F, Chiang NYZ. Topical vitamin C and the skin: mechanisms of action and clinical applications. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017;10(7):14-17.
American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Chemical peels for sun-damaged skin.
MedlinePlus. Laser surgery for the skin.