Can sun damage be reversed?

13 January 2023

Ask any Dermatologist their number one tip for healthy skin ageing and the answer will always be “sun protection.” But what if you’ve already had excess sun exposure in your life? ⁣Is it actually possible to reverse sun damage?

I find this a fascinating question. And if you’re one of the many people who have said things like: “Back in the day, we didn’t know about sun protection” or “In my teens and 20s, I fried myself and used sunbeds,’ you’ll be keen to know the answer.

The question is twofold:

  1. Can you improve the visible signs of sun damage, i.e., wrinkles, pigmentation, etc? ⁣
  2. Can you improve the cellular/DNA damage done by the sun?

Let’s explore.

Answer 1 is straightforward. The combination of procedures and skincare (particularly daily broad spectrum sun protection and topical retinoids) can significantly improve pigmentation, wrinkling, and textural change.⁣ Procedures that can help improve the appearance of sun damage include laser for pigmentation or rejuvenation and hyaluronic acid based injections for deeper lines.

Answer 2 is slightly more complex. When it comes to cellular/DNA damage, the good news is that there’s a lot we can do – even if it’s not perfect. Firstly, your skin is amazing at repairing cell damage by itself. But it needs a fighting chance. You can’t expect your skin to repair itself if it keeps on accumulating damage. So, even if you’ve had a lot of sun, it’s never too late to start being safer. This doesn’t mean shutting yourself away in a dark room. It simply means being sensible, and avoiding burning and sun seeking. ⁣

If you’ve had a lot of sun exposure, you will be at higher risk of skin cancers. Please be vigilant about any new bumps or blemishes that won’t heal and seek medical advice if you notice anything unusual on the skin. The earlier skin damage is picked up, the more treatable it is.

⁣Here are my evidence-based recommendations for reversing sun damage:⁣

  • Use high-factor SPF every single day.
  • Keep out of direct sunlight where possible. 
  • If you know you’re going to be in the sun, cover up. 
    *Louder for the people in the back!*⁣
  • Stay tuned: DNA repair enzymes in sunscreen are in early stages, but showing promise. 
  • Maximise your oral antioxidant intake. This means consuming plenty of fruit and vegetables. Supplements such as polypodium leucotomos and oral nicotinamide may also be helpful.⁣
  • Speak to your Dermatologist about topical tretinoin. It’s available on prescription.
  • Also see a Dermatologist if you’re significantly sun damaged. Certain medicated creams can help pick out abnormal cells and get rid of them – stopping them from developing into more serious changes.⁣

Thanks for reading,

Dr Emma xx

Follow me – @dremwedgeworth – on Instagram and TikTok for more healthy skin tips and advice.