Skip to contentSkip to footer

The Pro's Guide To Treating Sun Damage

Share this

The Violet Files

Filed under




All the tips, treatments, and topicals for regaining lit-from-within luminosity.

Written By
The Pro's Guide To Treating Sun Damage

Rosé all day; hot girl summer—whatever your personal mantra was for the balmy, humid months, it’s likely starting to feel like a distant memory. As summer fades into the rearview, now’s the perfect time to address those lingering reminders of warmer days—we’re talking pesky sunspots, dark patches, and uneven tone. Here’s your pigmentation playbook for “brightening up”, straight from the pros.

It’s important to determine pigmentation’s provenance, as an uneven complexion has a few culprits that will determine the right plan of attack, explains Manhattan-based dermatologist and Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, Joshua Zeichner, MD. “Hyperpigmentation is caused by over activity of melanocytes, the pigment producing cells in the skin,” he says. “While UV light is the most common cause of hyperpigmentation—it prompts melanocytes to rev up melanin production—it can also be worsened by hormonal fluctuations (often seen in melasma), infrared heat exposure, high energy visible light like from your phone or computer, and even air pollution.” Oh, and last week’s blemish can leave behind a mark, too. With various triggers, it’s no wonder then, that millions of women experience pigmentation issues at some point.

“The earlier you address hyperpigmentation, the better results you will get,” says Zeichner. Lasers, such as Intense Pulsed Light, the Alexandrite, and Nd:YAG are a targeted, effective option perfect for distinct round sun spots. "The laser is attracted to the pigment without damaging any of the surrounding tissue,” explains celebrity facialist Melanie Grant. “It heats up and shatters the pigment, which is subsequently drawn to the surface, before drying and flaking off the skin.” For more widespread discoloration, Zeichner powers up his Clear and Brilliant fractionated laser “to create microscopic damage to the skin, evening skin tone and lightening dark spots as it heals,” he says. Dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross notes, however, that not all skin types are necessarily suited for lasers. “Often darker skin tones may darken as a result of the laser treatment,” he says. “It is very important to have a consultation to ensure laser treatments will be effective for you. It is also important to remember that these treatments do not prevent future spots from forming, so lasers should always be paired with a protective at-home skincare regimen.” Speaking of…

Treatment is “a marathon, not a sprint,” says Zeichner, so the only way to keep it at bay in the long run is to double down on pigment prevention at home. Zeichner, Grant, and Gross praise the brightening powers of vitamin C. “It’s a potent antioxidant that calms inflammation in the skin and blocks production of abnormal pigmentation,” explains Zeichner. Grant recommends daily morning use, so consider prepping skin with a few drops of the ultra-nourishing Vintner’s Daughter Active Treatment Essence, or upping the ante with BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner, which delivers a highly-effective form of the vitamin—l-ascorbic acid—in a punchy 20% concentration. And for a once a week treatment, try the Saint Skin Micro Press, which combines next-gen microneedling (similar in concept to the controlled wound response of the fractionated laser), with a dose of all-natural brightening ingredients including vitamin C.

In the evening, exfoliation and cell renewal are key, says Grant. She’s partial to lactic acid to “purify, exfoliate and brighten skin in one step.” Plus “it’s gentle enough for most skin types and won’t strip or dehydrate,” she says. Royal Fern Phytoactive Skin Perfecting Essence combines lactic and malic acids with anti-inflammatory fern extract for extra-gentle exfoliation, while dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross blends lactic acid with other proven pigment-fighting ingredients such as vitamin C, kojic acid and arbutin (another Grant recommendation) in his Clinical Grade IPL Dark Spot Correcting Serum formula. “It not only corrects hyperpigmentation with a formulation that is both gentle and powerful, but also protects against future pigmentation from forming,” he says. And if your skin type bends towards sensitive, consider the latest from Tata Harper, her Concentrated Brightening Serum uses an efficacious blend of plant-based actives (69 to be exact) to reduce inflammation and redness, while fading brown spots and creating an overall radiance.

“There’s no point treating pigment if you’re not going to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF each and every day,” says Grant. “UV protection and avoiding excess sun exposure is imperative to any anti-pigment regime.” Better yet, she says, find an SPF with added moisturizer and “kill two birds with one stone.” A top favorite is MZ Skin Hydrate & Nourish Age Defence Retinol Day Moisturizer SPF 30, which further protects and refines the complexion with antioxidants and collagen-boosting vitamin A. To get glowy in a flash, employ the ZIIP Nano Current Device that breaks up pigment using microcurrent energy. Bonus: It’s also incredible for giving skin an instantaneous lift and luminosity. And for extra defense, consider an anti-inflammatory diet “filled with fresh produce, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids,” says Grant, who also suggests adding in an herbal adaptogen supplement to “help balance and regulate hormones.”