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What is the Best Way to Repair Sun Damage?

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Before we get into the most effective ways to reduce the appearance of sun damage, let’s be clear on what sun damage actually is, and the different terms we use for it. Hyperpigmentation is a broad term that refers to any darkening of skin (whether from sun exposure, a scar, or hormonal changes in the body). When the skin is damaged with unprotected sun exposure, hyperpigmentation may look like a scattering of freckles, age spots, or blotchy patches on the forehead, chin, and above the lip, frequently referred to as melasma. A key distinction of melasma is that it can be triggered by a multitude of things to include sun exposure and hormonal fluctuations alike. As a result, it is more commonly seen in women than men and can be more difficult to treat. Since melasma does not have a known cure, treatments options are designed to simply manage the condition.

Below are the most effective treatments for hyperpigmentation. Depending on the severity of your sun damage, they can be combined for optimal results. It’s important to note that everyone’s skin has unique needs, thus we highly recommend working with a trusted professional to determine the best form of treatment.

And we would be remiss to say that the best way to correct sun damage is to prevent it to start with. A broad-spectrum sunscreen (with reapplication), sun protective clothing, avoiding the sun during peak hours, and finding shade whenever possible are your best tools for fighting hyperpigmentation.

The Best Skincare Solutions

Retinoids

What it is: Retinoids—like the prescription Obagi® Tretinoin .05% Cream and over-the-counter Obagi® Retivance—are vitamin A derivatives that help with cellular turnover. By stimulating all three of our key skin cells (keratinocytes, melanocytes and fibroblasts), retinoidscan even out skin tone, fade brown spots, and ramp up collagen production. They are considered to be one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients and are often paired with other skin care and in-office treatments.

Best for… All skin types and all levels of hyperpigmentation. “Retinoids paired with hydroquinone and, of course, sun protection, is what we call a trifecta for treating hyperpigmentation,” says Koniver. 

How Long Until I See Results? Depending on the potency of your retinoid, and whether you pair it with another treatment, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to produce noticeable changes in the skin.

Hydroquinone

What It Is: Considered by many to be the gold standard topical skin-lightening treatment, hydroquinone works by inhibiting tyrosinase, an enzyme needed for melanin production. Melanin is produced in cells called melanocytes that live in the outermost layer of our skin. “When we get sun damage, the melanocytes produce pigment in an effort to protect our skin,” explains Koniver. “Essentially, the unwanted spots—whether freckles or whatever—are a warning sign telling us that we’ve had too much unprotected sun exposure. Hydroquinone is generally used as a daily melanin suppressor so it works by turning off the overactive melanocytes.

Best For “Recurring or persistent pigmentation or those who are prone to pigment, but perhaps don’t have much yet” says Koniver. Hydroquinone is most effective in a prescription strength of 4%, found in theObagi®Medical Skincare Line.

How Long Until I See Results? Applied daily (and ideally twice daily), you will begin to see hyperpigmentation fade away after a few weeks with best results following a few months of consistent use. Everyone always asks whether it’s necessary to take breaks from Hydroquinone and there is currently no clinical data stating as much. However, once you have your unwanted pigment under control, many patients do desire to switch to a less regimented protocol or perhaps simply decrease the number of products they use containing hydroquinone or the frequency with which they use them.

The Best In-Office Treatments

Chemical Peel

What It Is: Anin-office chemical peel is done by applying a chemical solution—typically a blend of lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acids—to the skin to remove the outermost layer of dead skin cells, thereby minimizing signs of sun damage, and helping to improve melasma. 

Best ForThe face, neck, chest and hands are the most commonly treated areas for chemical peels. A medium-depth peel like, Perfect Derma™ can be customized for all skin types and all ethnicities. A light peel, such as the Obagi® Blue Peel Radiance® is recommended for sensitive skin.

How Long Until I See Results? “As early as a week,” says Koniver. Immediately after the treatment, you may feel tingling, burning, itching, dryness, redness or tightness, depending on your skin’s sensitivity and the depth of the peel. You will see peeling or flaking over the next few days. And after a week, overall skin tone and complexion will appear smoother, glowing and refreshed.

Fractional Laser Resurfacing

What It Is: A fractional laser works by creating microscopic holes in the skin, leaving surrounding areas healthy and intact, to spark the body’s natural healing process, trigger new collagen growth, and stimulate cell turnover. Lasers vary in strength, and are recommended based on what is being treated.

Best For: A gentle diode laser, like the Clear + Brilliant is best for treating light to moderate melasma on the face. To treat severe sun aging anywhere on the body, Koniver Aesthetics also offers the more powerful CoolPeel™, which uses brand new CO2 laser technology as well as the Fraxel Dual®.

How Long Until I See Results? A series of treatments (typically three or four) is generally needed for best results. While every patient is different, and results may vary due to a number of factors, a Before & After gallery can help visualize outcomes.