Oops, you've got sun damage

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How to manage, treat and reverse sun damaged skin in every way possible.

Tan in haste, repent at leisure. Now that we’re on the other side of the summer months, amongst that spattering of charming freckles you might be noticing some accumulated sun damage as a result of all that glorious basking. Sun damage takes multiple forms, predominantly hyperpigmentation, dark spots and accelerated fine lines and wrinkles. If so, you’re not alone: pigmentation is now the number one UK skin gripe and irregular dark patches and uneven skin tone are widely considered more ageing than sagging skin.

“Sun damage in its various manifestations is the most common concern we see in clinic. Upwards of 80% of our patients present with it,” says award-winning aesthetic doctor, Dr Sophie Shotter. “Both men and women, from their 20s to their 80s, and those patients starting with injectables for fine lines and wrinkles in their early 20s, all come because of sun damage.”

Pigmentation is a normal occurrence, but what most of us are taking umbrage with is hyperpigmentation in the context of sun damage. Irregular brown patches most often found on the face, chest or hands are courtesy of the skin’s overproduction and erratic creation of melanin as a defensive move from intense UV exposure.

When it comes to sun damage, we’re repeat offenders

By now we should be well-versed in the dangers of sun exposure, so why are we still falling fowl of overcooking ourselves? “From a human point of view, we’ve been cooped up for so long and spent an unprecedented length of time inside, that now we’re all bursting to spend as much time outside as possible. Add to that we’re able to travel abroad and spending full days in the sun, it’s time to check in with your skin, visit a dermatologist to ensure skin health and purposefully reinstate sun barrier habits,” advises Katie Service, author of The Beauty Brief: An Insider's Guide to Skincare, (available nationwide).

So what are your options when it comes to sun damage? Happily, there are many forms of both offence and defence, depending on your lifestyle. From lasers to layering, here’s your good guide to sun damage solutions.

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Smart skincare is your DIY defence against sun damage

Effective skincare should be your first and daily line of defence against sun damage, fitting into a neat regime of exfoliating with acids, treating with corrective serums and protecting with SPF. For brightening serums that unify skin tone, erase dark patches and increase luminosity, look for Niacinamide or L-Ascorbic on the label. Also worth keeping an eye out for is the lesser known antioxidant, astaxanthin. A member of the carotenoid clan and derived from the micro algae that gives flamingos their pinkness, research in the US shows astaxanthin is 6,000 times more powerful than Vitamin C.

Sun damage also accelerates the formation of fine lines and leaves skin parched, so a plumping, intensive hydration hit is good skintellectual thinking. Polyglutamic acid is the new antioxidant everyone is talking about. Considered the new Hyaluronic acid, it can hold 5,000 times more moisture than its molecular weight. Originally developed for wound healing, it suspends hydration in the skin’s surface layer for hours, and offers an impressive plumping effect.

And for prevention, there is SPF. “I’d recommend reacquainting yourself with the range of suncare products available” says Service. “SPF is no longer a chore and the functionality of suncare products has advanced lightyears. If you don’t like traditional lotions, there are multiple ways to integrate SPF into your skincare regime. We’re talking multitasking, clever products that can effectively protect the skin barrier whilst also increasing skin health and being sustainable. It’s most certainly time to update your SPF regime.”

We suggest looking at Caudalie Anti-wrinkle Face Suncare SPF50, £19, which launched last year as the most forward-thinking reef-safe formula to date. It contains no chemical filters harmful to marine life, whilst still offering maximum protection and fully biodegradability. Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF30, £29, is completely sheer, melts into skin and sits seamlessly under makeup, and contains the magical astaxanthin. Or try Supergoop! Matte Screen SPF40, £33 which multitasks as primer, anti-shine mattifier, a translucent make-up base and your anti-aging skincare with a generous injection of hyaluronic acid.

The Cell Shifter

Glycolic acid is the best chemical exfoliator across the board for all skin tones, it’s just a matter of finding a concentration that feels right. Dr Glycolic Pore-Purifying Glow Toner, £30 is an excellent place to start.

The formidable fader

Anyone who’s stumbled across Fantastic Fungi documentary on Netflix will now know the real answer to “Who run the world?” is Fungi. The powerhouse shitake mushrooms in Dermalogica’s new Powerbright Dark Spot Serum degrade melanin and in initial trials show evidence of fading dark spots in as little as one week, £89 (ref. Dermatologica's site)

Leave it to the professionals

Once established, sun damage is stubborn to shift. Considered a chronic skin condition by dermatologists, pigmentation patches are seldom a one-off session. Treatments are expensive, often requiring 6-8 sessions with further long-term maintenance too. Dermatologists are increasingly prescribing pigmentation skincare to sit symbiotically alongside procedures for the optimum results. “If you do a treatment that strips the pigmentation away without also addressing the pigment production pathway, then the pigment will recur. Prescription skincare resets how the pigment producing cells are working,” explains Dr Shotter. “For me the biggest recent development has been the use of Cysteamine as an ingredient. It’s as effective as Hydroquinone, but non-prescription and without carrying any of the associated side effects. We’ve had brilliant results and it is so easy to use on both face and body. Combination treatments and approaches are where the real magic is happening with results. Combining some medicines with laser treatments and home care products, has been shown to yield phenomenal results even in the most difficult cases of melasma.”

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The latest in lasers

Dr Marwa Ali now wields the UK’s first Lumenis Stellar M22TM machine in her treatment room nestled within the Harrods Wellness Clinic. Multiple laser technologies to treat every aspect of sun damage in one colossal unit, including a bespoke hand pigmentation rejuvenation treatment for tell-tale age spots across the backs of hands. The LYMA laser, as the most powerful at home laser on the market, will also work on sunspots and sun-related pigmentation, and as an at home product can be used repeatedly and frequently.

The latest for darker skins

“I have a high percentage of Indian and Arabic clients who, as a result of living in a far hotter climates, tend to be better at addressing sun damage quickly. Obviously having darker skin tones, the likes of IPL lasers aren’t available to them, so I use the LYMA laser which works on every skin tone. Being frequent jetsetters, they like that it’s pain-free and has zero down time, whilst being every bit as powerful as traditional clinic lasers. We get results from definite improvement, to discolouration completely disappearing. It works beautifully on that yellow pigmentation that darker skins get but also the scarring they’ve had from attempting to use clinic lasers unsuccessfully in the past,” says London-based facialist Nichola Joss.

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Mega microneedling

A Harley Street favourite, the eDermastamp® consist of six lightning-fast needles that punch numerous tiny holes into the skin causing trauma and creating a panic situation so that new collagen cells form and rush to the rescue. Skin is excellent at repairing but it’s not for the faint-hearted.

The power peel

Dr Sophie Shotter favours the power of the trichloroacetic acid peel, for dramatic results on patients in relatively short periods of time. The downtime is realistically a week’s worth of peeling and flaking but pigmentation is dramatically improved, often achieving complete clearance. Alternatively, more superficial peels spaced 3-6 weeks apart can accomplish similar results without the consequent disruption to life.

Covering up just got cool

Stats show most people apply one third of the amount of sun screen they should and covering up with t-shirt wasn’t ever a realistic solution. T-shirts have an SPF of about 5 or 6 and the thinner and lighter colour the shirt is, the less SPF it has. Now garments can be lab-tested and awarded a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor), rating their ability to block both UVA and UVB rays, depending on their density of the weave.

Previously reserved to the sensible stomping grounds of outdoorsy brands, UPF clothing has now tottered into the fashion realms. The new season MOTT50 range boasts inter-seasonal wrap skirts, boardroom-ready shirt dresses and weekend-friendly retro print palazzo pants. Everything is UPF50 guaranteed and shipped worldwide. If you’re a dedicated runner, Lululemon short sleeve running tops are sleek, seamless and UPF50.

It’s now even possible to make your holiday luggage UPF50 with sun protection clothes wash. YOU&UV UV Sun Protection Clothes Wash, SPF+50, £24.99 works by adding a capful into your washing load and adds a protective coating for a couple of washes.

Originally published Sep 10, 2021.
Written by Jess Lacey, Beauty Editor.

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