How To Repair Sun Damaged Skin

How To Repair Sun Damaged Skin

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Ask someone to describe their perfect summer day, and chances are their happy place will be outside somewhere, soaking up the sun. Lounging on the beach with a good book, flipping burgers in the yard, hiking a favorite trail… we love to be out in the sun, but without moderation and the right protection, the sun does not love us back.

Sun damage is avoidable, but we know stuff happens. You forgot to put protection on before heading out or thought you wouldn't need it because it was a cloudy day (spoilers: you still need it). Or maybe you thought "How bad can it be?" and just decided to skip the sunscreen entirely.

Each time, you ended up looking like a tomato, and now all of those instances are starting to catch up with you and you're worried that people are going to start wondering if you're leaving a few candles off your birthday cake this year…or worse.

Fortunately, you don't have to take it lying down (wincing every time you roll over). There are steps you can take to help reverse both short- and long-term sun damage.

Is it too late to reverse sun damage?

Woman applying sunscreen to protect skin from sun damage

UV radiation from sun exposure can lead to different types of sun damage on skin, and it isn't pretty. Wrinkles, uneven skin tone, white spots and age spots can make you look older than your driver's license would suggest. In fact, it is estimated that UV exposure could be responsible for up to 80% of visible aging. And as bad as looking older sounds, that's just the surface of the problem (literally). Prolonged sun exposure increases your chance of several types of skin cancer. If you're worried that the reflection in the mirror looks like it should be a portrait of your future self, you might be wondering if the sun has already set, so to speak, on your chances to fight back against premature aging.

The good news is it's probably not too late. There are steps you can take now to reverse sun damage and premature skin aging, both internal and topically, including more advanced treatments available from dermatologists.

Before you start, you'll want to make sure to recommit to protecting your skin as much as possible from any further sun damage. You'll just be spinning your wheels if you try to undo past transgressions while still exposing your skin to more unnecessary UV damage. Once you've got your protection habits firmly in place, this two-pronged approach will help you turn back the clock on sun damaged skin.

Vitamins and other nutrients that are good for sun damaged skin…from within.

Woman taking supplements for beautiful skin

A number of vitamins and other nutrients can help protect the skin from the inside out. Some you will likely be familiar with, like certain forms of vitamin A or popular nutrients like lycopene. Others may seem a bit more exotic, like a tropical fern extract called Polypodium leucotomos. But each can play a significant role in undoing the damage your skin has taken from sun exposure.

  • Beta-carotene and other carotenoids (forms of vitamin A), plus lycopene: Ironically, while you're doing your best impression of a tomato, actual tomatoes and other red or orange pigmented foods are a great source of antioxidants that can help neutralize free radicals that can build up from sun exposure. Bell peppers, carrots and cantaloupe make excellent, skin-friendly snack choices.
  • Collagen: Increasing your collagen intake can help replenish levels in your skin lost to time and UV damage, which can help increase your skin elasticity and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
  • Polypodium leucotomos, niacin and red orange extract: These powerful nutrients can help prevent DNA damage caused by UV exposure, repair damaged DNA, and provide protection that compliments sunscreen usage to help protect skin from future UV damage.

Topical treatments for targeting damaged skin directly

Jar of skin lotion for skin repair

Solidifying your preventive efforts against sun exposure and increasing your intake of nutrients that will help repair your skin from within are both good moves, but there's something gratifying about tackling a problem directly. Luckily, there is no shortage of creams, lotions and other topical remedies for the visible signs of aging, often targeted at specific concerns.

Skin care is an important part of any anti-aging regimen, and reversing sun damage on your face or elsewhere is a huge part of that. You may already have your own skin care routine. If not, this is the perfect time to start. The basics are the same: wash, moisturize, protect. But when targeting sun-damaged skin directly, you'll want to make sure you're using the right nutrients that often mimic and support the efforts of your internal nutrients and can help you reduce visible wrinkles and even out your skin tone.

Look for ingredients like palmitoyl tripeptide-5, which can help stimulate collagen production, acetyl hexapeptide-51 amide, which can help repair DNA, and Aspalathus linearis extract, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

If topical creams aren't quite up to the task, consider more advanced methods of reversing the signs of aging caused by sun damage. Some, like microdermabrasion, can be attempted either at home or with the help of a professional. Others, like laser resurfacing, will obviously require a visit with your dermatologist, where you can discuss your best options.

Does coconut oil reverse sun damage?

Broken in half coconut which is good for skin burns

If you do get a burn, there are a few things you can do to make the pain and inflammation a bit more manageable. Coconut oil is a popular remedy, and for good reason: while it won't actually heal your damaged skin, it can help soothe the discomfort and cool the burn.

Can you get rid of a sunburn quickly?

So, you're committed to preventing sun damage going forward, and you're loaded up with tactics for reversing sun damage and reclaiming your youthful glow, but none of that helps with your throbbing red shoulders and Rudolph-red nose right now. So how do you treat the short-term effects of UV exposure: the dreaded sunburn?

Unfortunately, like the common cold, there's not much you can do to try to skip the natural healing process. It takes time, rest and hydration. Aloe vera is a popular option that can help keep peeling at bay by moisturizing your skin. You may also find relief from a cold compress or a cool bath. And while it might go without saying, just in case: stay out of the sun as much as possible, and layer up when you have to go out.

Follow these steps, and you're well on your way to properly enjoying summer while mitigating the risks. So (gingerly) pat yourself on the back. And next time, don't forget the sunscreen.

 

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