Now is the time to erase signs of sun damage

Home/Now is the time to erase signs of sun damage

Now that cooler temperatures have arrived and the sun has slipped behind clouds, our tans are fading. Our winter skin is showing all of the after-effects of the sun-brightened skin that we enjoyed in the summer.

When you look in the mirror, you’re probably not seeing a smooth bright even-toned complexion.

You’re probably seeing brown spots — sun spots — known by the medical term solar lentigos. Sun spots foreshadow worse damage to come in the future. And they contribute to aging your appearance now.

You may be seeing redness, ranging from a diffuse flush to patches of broken capillaries.

The surface texture of your skin is likely to be roughened. My skin used to be so rough from sun damage that I gave up on wearing makeup because it looked mealy on my skin. I needed foundation to even out my blotchy skintone but I couldn’t get it to go on properly.

And of course, we can thank the sun for many of the wrinkles and lines on our face — both from squinting against the sun and also from damage to the collagen and elastin in our skin leading to the network of fine lines that we see as we age.

When someone comes to see me about sun damage, my recommendations depend on the individual’s age, goals and budget, as well as the company that the sun damage is keeping.

So the basic treatment that addresses specifically the brown sun spots is the Intense Pulsed Light treatment (IPL), also known as the photofacial. By strict definitions, this is not a laser although many people refer to it as such.

In the upcoming series of articles, I will address sun damage and the factors that influence my recommendations for treatment. Depending on the situation, I might recommend skincare alone, chemical peels, or fractionated laser or any combination of these treatments, with or without IPL.

There’s method in my madness and I’m trying to tailor the treatment to best suit the individual.


  1. Katharine October 3, 2009 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    Hi Dr. Rose,

    I am a 23 year-old light-skinned female with moderate sun damage to my upper back, chest and shoulders. I am considering having a series of IPL treatments done at a local dermatologist's office but have several concerns about the procedure.

    I primarily am worried about the safety and potential risks of the treatment. The "IPL gone-wrong" photos of patients with permanent burning and scarring has made me reconsider my treatment. Are there ways to ensure this does not happen to me? Would a sample "test patching" be a fairly good indicator of how I would respond to a full treatment? Is there a way to instruct my RN to set the laser on a lower, safer setting? Should I be considered that an RN rather than a MD will be performing my treatments?

    Finally, will having a series of IPL treatments, even if they do temporarily erase some of my current skim damage, leave me prone to developing more skin damage at a faster rate? Of course I understand avoiding the sun and using proper protection when outside are crucial, but am curious as to whether the laser treatments damage the skin in such a way that makes sun damage appear faster and more noticeable.

    Thank you very much in advance for your help.


  2. Dr. Rose Jeans October 29, 2009 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    Hi Katharine,

    The keys to safety with the IPL treatment are (1) going to a reputable clinic with medical staff on site, (2) making sure the equipment is up to date and (3) giving feedback to the IPL operator if the shots of light are stronger than a 3 or 4 out of 10 for pain.

    I do test patching for anyone with a moderately dark skin tone (or darker) or anyone who appears to have a tan in the treatment area. I also do UV photography so that I know how much pigment is below the surface.

    In my clinic, I have trained medical estheticians doing the IPL so I think you would be alright with the RN rather than the MD at your doctor's office.

    My staff undergo intensive 1-on-1 training with me before they are allowed to do treatments on clients so I am confident that they are doing the treatments safely and effectively.

    Also I have newer equipment with special technology that prevents the high spikes in energy that cause burns with the old equipment.

    IPL has been used for years. We have no clinical evidence that IPL causes late-developing damage to the skin.

    There is one laboratory-based study that suggested that oxidative damage could occur at the cellular level with IPL. Oxidative damage is along the lines of oxygen free radical production. I haven't seen any studies that confirmed this finding in human or animal subjects. However I do use antioxidant serums on everyone after their IPL, just as a precaution.

    IPL reduces the melanin of sun damage in your skin so you are more prone to sunburn afterwards. It doesn't make sun damage appear faster or more noticeably afterwards, except in the sense that the damage you had before the treatment tended to hide new damage. After the IPL treatments, you don't have that camouflage any more.

    With proper protection and avoiding the sun, the recurrence of sun damage should be minimal and slow.

    On a personal note, I'm probably a similar skintone to you, and being that much older, had a lot of sun damage. I have been really pleased to erase the damage with IPL and reclaim a fresher appearance.

    I encourage you to go forward with the treatments (with the above caveats). Starting these treatments at 23 mean that you will have a beautiful and youthful appearance for a very long time.

    Let me know how it goes.

    All the best,

    Dr. Rose

  3. Lindasy Rosenwald March 28, 2011 at 10:51 am - Reply

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