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The Sunny Side: How to Reduce the Appearance of Sun Damage and Age Spots

By: Louis Silberman
Posted: July 30, 2013, from the August 2013 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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When the sun hits the skin, melanocytes (cells that produce melanin) move to the skin’s surface as a self-defense mechanism. However, it is a myth that getting a tan will protect your skin from further damage. The extra melanin in tanned skin produces an SPF of 2 or 4, which is much lower than the recommended SPF 30. Throughout time, repeated sun exposure can result in hyperpigmentation that causes your clients to feel self-conscious about their skin.

Both UVA and UVB rays cause damage that can lead to fine lines and wrinkles. When the rays penetrate skin, they damage collagen and elastin, forcing the body to fight back by producing a large amount of metalloproteinases. Metalloproteinase is an enzyme that normally helps to produce and repair collagen; however, sometimes the process does not work correctly, and the enzymes wind up degrading the collagen even further. The result of all this action is skin that is not rebuilt correctly, which forms wrinkles.

It’s no surprise that lighter skin tends to show the most visible signs of sun damage. When examining and treating clients, it is important to understand their skin type in order to determine the appropriate procedure and get the best results. The most commonly used tool for this is the Fitzpatrick scale. The Fitzpatrick scale is a skin-typing chart that helps to determine an individual’s sun sensitivity and skin cancer risk. (Editor’s note: For more on the Fitzpatrick scale, see “Global Skin: Climbing Your Client’s Family Tree.”) It is also a helpful guide for working with lasers and other light-based devices. Some treatments, including IPL photofacials, should not be used for clients with darker skin.

Solutions for sun-damaged skin

Although clients can’t turn back the clock to abstain from sun exposure in the past, they can erase some of the cosmetic damage that was done. Professional skin care treatments can help remove the skin’s damaged outer layers to diminish sun spots and encourage the growth of new, healthy collagen to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. (See Treatment Protocol for Sun Spots.)

Chemical peels. Chemical peel treatments are a good option for bringing new life to sun-damaged skin. These peels utilize various solutions and strengths for different treatment levels and results. You will need to customize the chemical peel treatment for each client, along with planning a structured treatment regimen. Most light-to-medium peels will require at least six treatments over a three-month period to see the best results.

Learn the science behind aging skin from world-renowned dermatologist Zoe Draelos, MD, in the Aging Skin lesson, part of the Physiology of the Skin online video series from Skin Inc. Video Education.