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In our VG Rx series, The Violet Files enlists the best doctors in the business to dispense targeted beauty prescriptions. This week: Can sun damage be reversed?
Written By JESSICA PRINCE ERLICH
Q: WHAT EXACTLY IS SUN DAMAGE, AND CAN IT BE REVERSED?
A: “Every time you tan, the DNA in your skin gets injured,” explains Dr. Karyn Grossman, a Santa Monica dermatologist. That injury surfaces later in myriad unsavory forms, from brown spots to wrinkles to enlarged pores to sagging to skin cancers. By now you’re aware that sunblock is the best defense against future harmful rays; the problem is, the sun damage you got starting in childhood is cumulative—and permanent—over your lifetime. So every time you return from a tropical vacation with a freckled nose and a golden glow (signs of harm to your skin in disguise), the damage is worsened.
What, then, can be done? “In an ideal world you would totally stay out of the sun,” says Grossman. While you run out to buy a wide-brimmed hat, here’s her advice on how to best reverse the sun damage you’ve already incurred. Her prescription? A power pairing of photofacials and fractionated lasers. Photofacials like Blu-U target actinic keratosis (pre-cancerous cells, not melanomas) caused by sun damage, whereas fractional lasers (Fraxel, Clear + Brilliant treatments) help correct brown pigment issues. (Photofacials are powered by a spectrum of intense pulsed light [IPL], while fractional lasers use a single wavelength.) “Alternating between the two will give you better results than just using one modality alone,” Grossman affirms.
HOW THEY WORK
To kill off pre-cancerous cells (your doctor can spot these during a routine skin cancer screening), Grossman recommends a Blu-U photofacial treatment in combination with the topical drug Levulan. Once absorbed into the skin, Levulan is activated by blue lights, damaging and killing some of the problematic cells. One visit will provide improvement, but “the more you do it, the better results you get,” confirms Grossman. Plan for two to three sessions, which may yield scabbing and swelling.
To combat pre-cancers while also boosting collagen, fading brown spots, and softening texture changes, Grossman likes fractionated laser treatments like Fraxel. The superficial layers of the skin are removed, so prepare for a few days of downtime. During the procedure, a thin layer of gel is applied to the treatment zone and the pulse is activated. Grossman strongly recommends numbing first to avoid the unpleasant hot-rubber-band-snap sensation. “You need to be super sun-avoidant for a week following, as your skin will be more sensitive,” she says. Side effects also include bruising, redness, blisters, and scabbing, all of which can be camouflaged with makeup. (Clear + Brilliant treatments are the baby version of Fraxel treatments, treating pigment and evening the skin’s tone and texture, with nearly no downtime but far less dramatic results.) As for maintenance, “it takes about ten years for sun damage to show up on the skin,” Grossman notes. “So if you continue to stay out of the sun, you will see long-term improvement.” If swearing off the beach isn’t practical, plan on twice-yearly follow-up visits—and lots of sunscreen.
*Note: Patients with dark skin tones are not good candidates for fractionated lasers because of an increased risk of burning.
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THE RULES OF
Read on for a top dermatologist’s advice on protecting your skin all summer long.
Read more about Dr. Grossman on The Violet Files’ shortlist of top skin doctors.