When the summertime hits, we all like to show a bit more colour on our cheeks. That sun-kissed look everyone is chasing after, seems to be the epitome of beauty. But is there a difference between sun-kissed and sun-damaged skin, and how thin is the line between the two?
Today, we’re breaking down this topic, and looking into how to revive sun-damaged skin and keep it sun-protected.
A few (or more than a few) decades ago, people were blissfully unaware of the effects that the sun can have on their skin. They spent many sunny days joyously soaking in sun rays and sending their kids out to get some vitamin D from the sun.
Luckily, over the past 50 years or so, our collective knowledge of the potential damage that the sun can cause, has grown. Today, we know that exposing ourselves to UV (ultraviolet) light can cause not only premature skin aging, but also pigmentation, skin cancer, and many other conditions such as:
- Changes in skin texture — fine and coarse wrinkles that are a result of thinning skin
- Changes in pigment — different forms of hyperpigmentation such as freckles, brown spots, and age spots
- Easily bruised skin, even from minor trauma, and red spots on the neck area
- White spots on limbs and the back of the hands
- Pre-cancerous skin changes — actinic keratosis and actinic cheilitis, which are red scaly lesions and lesions on the lips that can develop into skin cancer
Clearly, the damage that the sun can do is massive. However, people who grew up without this knowledge but are now aware of it, think that their skin is a lost cause.
That’s not the case. Although sun exposure in your early years can cost you considerably later in life, it’s never too late to develop a skincare routine., That routine must, of course, involve plenty of protection. UV rays won’t hold back, so neither should you!
What Is Sun Pigmentation?
Exposure to the sun in early life can cause damage in our later years. In fact, people older than 60 have the highest risk of developing skin cancer, and other sun-induced conditions.
Face wrinkles, such as laugh lines, are sometimes our main concern when it comes to sun damage. Even moderate or even low exposure to the sun can damage our collagen fibres. Since those collagen fibres are the main protein that makes up the structure of our skin and maintains its integrity, it’s vital that it remains undamaged.
Not to mention, the sun can cause a buildup of elastin that allows for tissue stretching and the overproduction of enzymes that can break down collagen. All that leads to a disorganized development of collagen fibres, which results in solar scars and wrinkles.
But the sun (along with the age and other skin conditions) can also cause further issues. As mentioned, pigmentation or hyperpigmentation is one of them.
Pigmentation is the uneven coloration of the skin that we often call dark spots or age spots. When we expose ourselves to too much sun, patches of our skin change colour due to an increase in melanin production. Although there are different types of hyperpigmentation, it mainly occurs due to sun exposure. The sun rays are what triggers melanin hyperproduction.
But why does that matter?
How Hyperpigmentation Occurs
When we spend time in the sun, our skin suffers. In fact, even when there’s no sunshine, our skin can be damaged. Some people think that an overcast day or “tough skin” will protect them from a-damage, but in reality, any visible light can affect our skin.
When we go out into the light, our bodies produce more melanin because it’s our natural sun protectant. It shields our skin from damaging UV rays and protects us. That’s why we get a tan after we spend some time in the sun.
However, if we overdo it and spend a lot of time in the sun, that same melanin can cause hyperpigmentation that won’t fade. Furthermore, prolonged sun exposure can also make existing spots worse and darker.
Is It Dangerous?
Hyperpigmentation is pretty common. It can happen to everyone, no matter their skin tone, conditions, and overall health. These dark spots that sometimes form after we go out into the sun, can fade on their own (if you protect your skin carefully and diligently).
More importantly, hyperpigmentation isn’t dangerous. However, it can affect our self-esteem and body image. It’s a sure sign of sun-damaged skin, and a wake-up call for everyone who avoids sunscreen.
Moreover, hyperpigmentation can also be a sign of another condition. It’s crucial that we know what caused our hyperpigmentation to actively treat and care for it. Hormonal fluctuations and skin conditions such as psoriasis can also cause dark spots to appear.
Of course, there’s also the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that occurs after an injury to the skin. Injury like that can be caused by acne (which is the discoloration that often follows the appearance of acne scars), burns, or cuts. It can also be the result of a bad chemical peel or Atopic Dermatitis.
How Can We Avoid Sun Pigmentation?
To answer the question from the very beginning — there’s a vast difference between having sun-kissed and sun-damaged skin. It’s perfectly fine to spend time in the sun and get some color on your cheeks and body. What you want to avoid is exposing yourself to the sun in the prime hours of the day with no protection. That will definitely cause sun damage in the form of:
- dry skin
- premature skin ageing
So, although it can have massive effects, the sun isn’t inherently bad. You just have to know how to protect yourself.
Avoiding sun pigmentation is all about sun protection.
Direct Sunlight Is Not Your Friend
Going out into direct, harsh sunlight during the peak hours of the day is definitely the wrong step if you’re looking to avoid sun damage and pigmentation. Between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM, the sun is at its harshest. In other words, the UV rays are the strongest during that part of the day.
So, if possible, avoid spending any time in the sun during that time. But what should you do if you simply can’t follow this advice?
But Hats Are!
Protective clothing and, most importantly, hats will protect the exposed skin if you really have to go out into the harsh sun. And, when picking hats, it’s always best to stick to the “Go big or go home!” motto, since wide-brim hats will protect you the best. They’ll shield not only your face but also your neck and shoulders.
If you can, opt for baggy clothing that isn’t made out of cotton. Although cotton is breathable and we prefer it to other materials during high heat, it doesn’t have the same protective properties as some other materials as nylon or polyester do.
Picking At Your Skin is a Huge No-No
Try to touch your skin as little as possible. Don’t pick at scabs, mosquito bites, and other irritated areas because that all on its own can lead to hyperpigmentation.
But Applying Sunscreen is a MUST
Of course, adequate sun protection in the form of sunscreen is a must. Don’t think that your makeup will protect you on its own. If you wear makeup, opt for the products that have SPF in them or apply sunscreen before applying your makeup.
It’s important that you use sunscreen the way it was intended. So, apply at least one tablespoon on each limb, as well as your torso and back, and at least half a tablespoon on your face and shoulders.
Sunscreen will block out about 97% of the sun’s harsh UV rays. However, to maintain that protection, you have to reapply the product every two hours or so. Picking a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high factor, like the SkinCeuticals broad-spectrum sunscreen, is always a good choice.
How To Deal With Your Sun-Damaged Skin
Prevention is your primary weapon in the battle against sun damage. As mentioned, even if you already have sun-damaged skin, it’s vital that you protect it from further overexposure. So, wear sunscreen. What’s more, wear it year-round, not just in the summertime.
Dealing with current sun pigmentation takes a bit more effort. Reversal of existing damage also takes time. It’s important to treat it as soon as possible.
The best possible course of treatment is to up your skincare by include products that have:
- Niacinamide — minimizes dark spots and effectively deals with hyperpigmentation by improving elasticity, decreasing the yellow and dark undertones, as well as redness, blotchiness, wrinkles, and fine lines.
- Azelaic acid — a common anti-acne ingredient can reduce both sun-damage-induced discolorations as well as signs of premature ageing.
- Retinol and retinoid — vitamin A in retinol and retinoid products can enhance several skin cell mechanisms, including the epidermal cell turnover. That will help fade the hyperpigmentation.
Aside from that, there are plenty of medical treatments available to you. The hyperpigmentation that proves to be stubborn to fade can be treated with:
- Vitamin Infusions — the vitamins are galvanized and led to deep skin levels by ultrasound which allows for deep penetration and hydration.
- Intense Pulse Light Treatment — the laser targets the damaged skin cells and dries them out while simultaneously promoting the production of new skin and collagen.
- Chemical Peels — by applying mild acid on the skin, the damaged layers are removed while the peel promotes new, healthy growth.
Although the sun-kissed look does have its appeal, it’s vital that we protect ourselves against the sun. No matter the skin type you have, you must wear sunscreen if you go outside in the sunlight. Furthermore, it’s essential that you apply it evenly and generously every two hours.
The UV rays can cause a lot of issues, especially later in life. If your skin is already sun-damaged, you can still do a lot to protect it from further damage. Maintaining a skincare routine and being mindful of protection are two staple moves that you simply must make in order to maintain the youthful, fresh look that you’re striving for.