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How to Reverse the Effects of Sun Damage

author image Elizabeth Ricanati, M.D.
Beth Ricanati, M.D., worked at Columbia Presbyterian's Center for Women's Health and then at the Women's Health Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the founding medical director of Lifestyle180, a groundbreaking lifestyle-modification program to treat chronic diseases with nutrition, exercise and stress management at the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Institute. Now based in Southern California, she's written wellness content for YouBeauty.com and is a consultant for medical projects and start-ups.
How to Reverse the Effects of Sun Damage
Prevent sunspots and melasmas of damaged skin with frequent sunscreen application. Photo Credit Kraig Scarbinsky/Photodisc/Getty Images

Be good to your skin. It is your first line of defense against the rigors of the outside world, and taking care of it should be a priority at every stage of life.

The skin is our largest organ, though most of us don’t think of it as such. It protects us from the elements like harsh sunlight and bitter-cold winters. It protects us from germs. It is our sensory organ, registering temperature, pain and pressure. But if we’re not careful, it shows signs of wear and tear early and often.

To protect against long-term damage, work good habits into your routine, and always keep in mind that your skin is vital to helping you put your best face forward.

Why Your Skin + the Sun = Bad News

The structure of skin contains three layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis (or subcutaneous layer). The outermost layer, the epidermis contains special cells, melanocytes, that produce melanin. We require melanin to protect us from the sun’s harmful rays. When we spend time outside in the sun, more melanin is produced, making our skin darker.

Read More: The 32 Safest Sunscreens and 3 to Avoid

Summertime is a great time to pamper our skin. Why? If we’re lucky, we get to spend more time outdoors when the weather is nicer. And although the sun feels great and the vitamin D from the sun is so nourishing, we must follow a few simple steps to keep our skin (and by extension, the rest of us!) healthy and glowing.

Good skin starts with good hydration. Water is best, but even coffee -- in moderation -- counts!
Good skin starts with good hydration. Water is best, but even coffee -- in moderation -- counts! Photo Credit marinovicphotography/iStock/Getty Images

Quench Your Skin's Thirst

Water, water and more water. We all know that we need to drink plenty of fluids during the day, and this is never more true than when you’re out in the sun. It’s hot, it’s dehydrating and it’s never been easier — just keep a bottle of water with you. Keep a refillable water bottle with you as often as you can. If you have to wait until you are truly thirsty to drink, then you’re already getting dehydrated.

The evidence varies as to how much is enough. I recommend the tried-and-true “8 by 8” rule for its simplicity: eight glasses of eight ounces of water each day. The majority of our water comes from beverages, but don’t forget that if water or other beverages (think juices, coffee and tea) aren’t your thing, you can also supplement your intake with foods that have a high water content, such as cucumbers, watermelon and berries.

How to Reverse Sun Damage

Help prevent sun spots and melasmas of damaged skin with frequent sunscreen application, daily moisturizer and improving your nutrition. Why? Not only is it important in the moment to prevent a painful sunburn, but it is also important in the long run to decrease your risk of skin cancer as well as other changes to the skin.

Sun spots (solar lentigines) are those flat, brownish spots that can occur on sun-exposed skin (hands, arms and faces, for example), and melasma spots are more grayish-brown than sun spots and usually appear on the face.

If you already have sun spots or melasma, a variety of treatment options exist. Research suggests that treatment with topical agents you can get from your dermatologist are superior to chemical peels and laser for melasma. Laser treatments can help with sun spots, however, and there are many creams and oils marketed for treating hyperpigmentation (dark spots).

When in doubt, I recommend speaking with your dermatologist or regular physician about treatment options. In fact, everyone, and especially those of us living in sunny climes, should see a dermatologist once a year for a skin-check, and if you notice any new or changed spots, see a dermatologist sooner.

Reapply sunscreen to exposed skin every two hours.
Reapply sunscreen to exposed skin every two hours. Photo Credit Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

Sunscreen: First, check out the Environmental Working Group’s website to see how your favorite sunscreens measure up, and have a look at LIVESTRONG.COM’s list, The 32 Safest Sunscreens and 3 to Avoid.

Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you are out in the sun and again at least every two hours thereafter. You might consider using sunscreen sticks for your face and neck so you don’t miss any spots. Also, when using sprays, ensure that more gets on your skin than blows away in the wind.

Moisturizer: Keep it simple and consider using a moisturizer that has SPF in it: One with SPF 25 is a good start so that you’re protected when you head out in the morning. Moisturizers are great, especially in dry and windy climates, but don’t forget the actual sunscreen or to reapply the moisturizer because the SPF coverage will last only so long.

Better nutrition: Skin, just like other organs in our bodies, responds to good foods. Foods that are high in antioxidants and lycopene are especially good for your skin. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, green vegetables and green tea are full of important phytonutrients that protect the integrity of your skin.

Love, pamper and protect your skin today to ensure its health and happiness for years to come.

Read More: How to Fade Hyperpigmentation

What Do YOU Think?

Do you have some favorite remedies for damaged skin? If so, what are they? How do you otherwise protect yourself and your family from the ravages of the sun?

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