Treatments can restore sun-damaged skin
DEAR DOCTOR K:
I was a sun worshipper in my teens. Now, in my 60s, my skin is paying for it. Is it possible to reverse signs of sun damage?
The answer is yes. That's not only good news for you; it's also good news for me. I was raised in Los Angeles and spent nearly every weekend of my youth on the beach -- without sunscreen.
When we were young, we thought that having a tan made us look healthier and more attractive. We still think that. But we didn't know then, as we do now, the toll that excess sun exposure takes: wrinkles, sun spots and potentially deadly skin cancers. We thought the only problem with spending time in the sun was a sunburn.
We can't go back and trade our baby oil for sunscreen, but according to my colleague Dr. Kenneth Arndt, clinical professor of dermatology emeritus at Harvard Medical School, it's not too late to undo some of the sun damage. This is what I've learned from him.
Several treatments on the market and at your dermatologist's office can combat signs of sun damage:
-- Anti-aging creams. Prescription-strength retinoids, found in many of these products, can reverse some of the signs of skin aging, but they sometimes leave sensitive skin red and irritated. Products containing antioxidants and vitamin C may help a bit. Most insurance companies won't pay for anti-aging creams, and they can be expensive. But they do help restore your skin and reverse some of the damage.
-- Laser resurfacing. An intense beam of laser light can wipe years of sun-related damage from the skin. In the past, the only available laser treatments removed the entire outer layer of skin. The new skin that grew back in its place had a smoother, more youthful appearance. The laser also triggered the formation of collagen, the protein that gives young skin its elasticity. In addition, it removed precancerous lesions before they could turn into full-fledged cancer.
The downside was that for several weeks, you were left with red, raw-looking skin. If you didn't want folks to see you this way, you had to hide out for a while.
Today, there is a newer procedure called "fractional resurfacing" that works almost as well as laser resurfacing, but without producing the raw-looking skin appearance. Fractional resurfacing requires repeat sessions, but the recovery time is much faster and there is less scarring or other complications.
-- Chemical peels. Chemicals strip away sun-damaged skin. A glycolic acid peel is the gentlest type and removes only the outer layer of skin. Deeper chemical peels, done by a dermatologist, remove all but the deepest layers of skin.
You spent more time in the sun when you were young than was healthy for your skin, as did I. Fortunately, now there are treatments that can help us heal the damage.
(Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.)
** ** **
COPYRIGHT 2012 THE PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE
DISTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL UCLICK FOR UFS