By: Lindsey Hunter-Ellul, M.D.
Gone are the days when bathing in the sun with baby oil and iodine were thought to give you that “healthy glow.” We now know that the number one cause of skin cancer and skin damage is exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) from the sun. As a dermatologist, I frequently encounter patients asking how they can protect and improve their skin after years of previous sun damage. There are a variety of products on the market available to combat those wrinkles and sun spots, but the most important thing that you can do for your skin is apply a daily broad spectrum sunscreen.
The term “broad spectrum” means that the sunscreen protects skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays from the sun, which contribute to wrinkles, sun spots, skin laxity, and skin cancer. Sunscreens with “physical blockers,” such as mineral-based Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are best, however, there are a variety of sunscreens with “chemical blockers,” such as Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, and others that are also effective. Many products have combinations of both physical and chemical blockers. In general, most dermatologists recommend the mineral-based sunscreens, as they have proven to scatter and reflect UVA/UVB rays, whereas the chemical-based products absorb and dissipate UV rays. Chemical-based sunscreens can be irritating to sensitive skin patients and have been known to cause allergic reactions. Reapplication of your sunscreen is essential no matter how high the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is. “Water Resistant” sunscreens only last about 40-80 minutes on the skin, and sunscreen sprays must be rubbed in after application to be effective. I generally recommend using at least a 40 SPF water resistant sunscreen to my patients, with regular reapplication if they plan on being active outdoors. EltaMD® and Neutrogena® are among my favorite brands of sunscreen.
So what else can you do about the sun damage that you already have and how else can you prevent further signs of photoaging? Let’s talk about retinoids, antioxidants, and other products. Retinoids, which are Vitamin A derivatives, have been shown to help promote collagen regeneration, improve fine lines and wrinkles, and improve the skin’s texture and appearance of sun spots. There are both prescription strength and non-prescription strength retinoids and your dermatologist or other skin care professional can discuss the benefits of the various strengths and products available to determine which product will most benefit you.
Antioxidants are a hot topic in skin care, as studies have recently shown they help even skin tone and pigmentation and lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by neutralizing free radicals generated from pollution, UV rays, and other factors. Many consumers do not apply an adequate amount of sunscreen, and may only be blocking a portion of the free radicals created by UV exposure. This can be countered by daily application and/or ingestion of various antioxidants. Examples include: Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid), Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), Green Tea Extract, and Polypodium leucotomos Extract, to name a few. While oral antioxidants may be of benefit to the body, it is difficult to ingest a sufficient quantity for them to be effective in the skin. Polypodium leucotomas (HeliocareTM) is the exception, and has been shown to have high protective and reparative activity in the skin, guarding the skin against premature aging and sun damage. SkinCeuticals® offers a great selection of topical anti-oxidants for all skin types.
Topical growth factors, like Tensage®, peptides and many other products, in addition to a variety of lasers and other non-invasive and minimally invasive procedures can also help improve your skin’s vitality and restore brilliance. The number of products and treatment options available can be overwhelming, but no matter what your regimen is, it must contain a daily sunscreen!