Five ways to reverse sun damage

Sun-damaged hands, Ohio State Wexner Medical Center dermatology 
Over time, the glory of sultry, sun-kissed skin can morph into dark spots, fine lines and wrinkles, adding years to your complexion.
As a dermatologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, I’ve met many women – and men – who want to reverse the signs of aging caused by the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.
“Is there a way to turn back the clock on sun-damaged skin?” they often ask.
Fortunately, experts are shedding light on ways you can reverse some problems caused by the sun. It’s not possible to erase all of the damage, but there are steps you can take for these common conditions. Here are five:
Jennifer Sopkovich, Ohio State Wexner Medical Center1. Protect your skin from damaging sunrays
The main cause of the sun’s damaging effects on the skin is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Sunlight is the main source of UV rays. Tanning lamps and beds also are sources of UV rays. People who get a lot of UV exposure from these sources also are at a greater risk for skin cancer. The first step to reversing sun damage is to prevent any further damage from happening. This means, starting now, protect your skin by wearing sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher on a daily basis. (Learn more about sun safety.)
2. Apply retinoic acid cream
Topical retinoic acid creams can be an effective starting point for reversing the signs of sun damage to your skin. Retinoic acid is a derivative of Vitamin A that helps your skin shed dead cells and create new ones. Over time, retinoic acid can improve skin pigmentation and help ease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol products are available over the counter. Retinoids, which are stronger, can be obtained with a prescription from your dermatologist.
3. Add alpha hydroxy acid or Vitamin C to your beauty regimen
Over-the-counter beauty products containing alpha hydroxy acid can lightly exfoliate the skin to reduce texture changes and fine lines caused by sun damage. The additional ingredient of Vitamin C can stimulate collagen production. These products can offer improvement over time, but, in my opintion, they’re not as effective as topical retinoids.
4. Use a skin-lightening cream
Sun damage can lead to dark spots that can be lightened by topical skin-bleaching creams. Products with the ingredient hydroquinone are the most popular and effective. Hydroquinone 2% is available over the counter, but higher strengths of hydroquinone are available by prescription. Other effective, skin-lightening ingredients include glycolic acid, kojic acid, Vitamin C, niacinamide and soy. In my opinion, products having a higher concentration of hydroquinone produce speedier, more prominent results.
5. Consider laser therapy
Laser therapy can target redness caused by sun damage, as well as rosacea and blood vessels that flare with sun exposure. Most laser treatments are targeted at the face. However, treatment to neck, chest, arms, back and hands can be performed. Laser therapy also can be used to target brown spots. The CO2 laser is a great treatment option for patients who want more significant improvement after failing the topical creams mentioned above. This laser carries the most recovery time but also produces the most dramatic improvement in sun-damaged skin. The CO2 laser is an ablative laser, which means it causes microchannels of injury in the skin, which promotes new skin growth and rejuvenation. After treatment, your skin appears to have severe sunburn and heals over approximately one week.
Keep in mind: Dark spots that grow in size, shape or color should be evaluated by a dermatologist.