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LESSONS ON
SUNBurn
REPAIR

Solutions for reversing (and preventing) skin damage
after months of basking in the sun.
Written By Fiorella Valdesolo
Lessons on Sunburn Repair | VIOLET GREY | The Industry's Beauty Edit | @violetgrey

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CAT MIERS

The end of August vacation brings with it a reality check: Those beach days were glorious, but the skin damage left in their wake (hyper-pigmentation, sun spots, dehydration), are anything but. Here, a plan of attack for triage and prevention courtesy of dermatologist (and creator of 37 Actives skincare) Dr. Macrene Alexiades and holistic aesthetician Kristina Holey.
As Dr. Macrene Alexiades, a New York dermatologist who specializes in anti-aging therapies and lasers, asserts, “Sun damage overrides all else, playing the biggest role in skin aging,” Here's how it works: UV rays penetrate the skin and cause the collagen and elastin to break down, causing the skin to get thinner. “This manifests with wrinkles and sagging and laxity of the skin. As your skin tries to fight UV exposure it increases melanin production and that’s how you get age spots.” The fairer-complected among us are the most susceptible, though no one is immune.
There is truth in the statement that you need to start young to stay young, because what you see at the end of a well-spent summer is actually the cumulative effect of UV rays literally chomping away at your collagen year after year. “Most of the damage that we see is the long term effect of the degradation of the dermal matrix,” says Kristina Holey, a San Francisco and New York facialist with a bevy of editor clients who is known for her holistic approach. “As you enter your thirties and beyond any damage from your childhood, adolescence, or twenties will start to express itself on the skin.”
While the consistency can be cringe-worthy, the smarter shield against the sun’s aging effects is a mineral or physical sunblock (that means zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are the primary ingredients) over a chemical sunscreen. And the reasons are twofold. Chemical sunscreens require diligent reapplication, no matter whether or not you’re taking a dip. “A lot of people put on an SPF 50 chemical sunscreen in the morning and think they are done for the day but that’s not going to get you anywhere. The chemicals degrade so quickly you have to reapply every two hours,” says Holey, whose favorite sunscreens include Luzern la Defense, Avene, and Marie Veronique. There is also new research that suggests chemicals may be doing more harm than good. “There’s an actual chemical reaction protecting you from the UV rays and that reaction degrades a lot of the chemicals in sunscreen, causing oxidation which in turn creates free radicals,” explains Holey. “Research is now proving that free radical damage is potentially just as bad as UV damage.”

Alexiades suggests taking stock of your situation before reaching for your sunblock. “If I’m going to be on a boat I want an SPF 100 no matter what because even when the ocean spray starts to wash it off I will still have a 50, then for everyday wear an SPF 50 is acceptable,” she says. Her current go-to blockers: Topix Pharmaceuticals Glycolix SPF 30 which has 17% micronized zinc plus vitamins C, E, and Coq10, Neutrogena Baby Faces SPF 50 and Skinceuticals Physical Fusion SPF 50. 
Nowadays, the spectrum of in-office treatments to address the visible effects of sun damage is vast, but Alexiades advises patients to consider their age before booking an appointment.
20s-30s
SOLUTION: IPL (INTENSE PULSED LIGHT)
If you’re in your twenties or early thirties and just starting to see damage expressing itself as blotchiness, age spots, or red spots, she recommends IPL (intense pulsed light). “If you don’t have any real wrinkles to speak of yet you don’t want to blowtorch the skin,” she says. “With IPL there’s no pain or downtime, it’s very gentle and it’s been around for a couple of decades because it works and has been proven to turn back the clock on skin so it looks and behaves younger.” If you’re starting to see wrinkles and fine lines, Alexiades has seen great results with the Genesis laser by Cutera, a Yag laser that stimulates collagen formation throughout the second layer of skin impacting wrinkles and skin laxity and, like IPL, comes with not pain or downtime. “This wavelength is very well absorbed by pigment and blood vessels so it also decreases brown spots and broken capillaries,” she adds.
40s-50s
SOLUTION: FRACTIONAL RESURFACING DEVICE
Once you reach your forties, and sun damage and wrinkles are more entrenched, Alexiades suggests a fractional resurfacing device. “My favorite thing to do for this age group is to do the fractional device Erbium then coat the skin with my 37 Actives [which in fact now contains 50 actives] and use another device called Impact to push that into the skin,” she explains. “Adding that second step with the Actives really boosts the results due to ingredients like the two most stable forms of Vitamin C which are cofactors for collagen synthesis; ATP for synthesizing proteins; proline, the amino acid building block of collagen; and peptides, the fragments of collagens that serve to stimulate new collagen formation.”
50s+
SOLUTION: FRACTIONAL CARBON DIOXIDE
Once you reach your fifties, the most efficacious treatments will require some recovery. “When you are older and the damage is more significant you should look at doing fractional carbon dioxide,” says Alexiades of the CO2 laser that vaporizes a microscopic column of skin triggering a wound-healing response that induces new fresh skin formation so the complexion is smoother and plumper. “You are looking at 7-10 days of downtime but the results are more significant.”
Serums
There is no quick fix for reversing sun damage. “It’s not enough to have a procedure done once a year; just like with your teeth, to avoid cavities you need to brush and floss every day,” says Alexiades. “To prevent damage, correct damage as it occurs and reverse old damage you need to have an effective topical regimen in place to get traction on a daily basis.” She advises to look for anti-aging resveratrol and anti-oxidants that reverse the damage caused by the sun like green tea, coffeeberry and yerba mate extracts (all can be found in Alexiades’s line). Hilary Peterson, founder of True Nature Botanicals (a luxury skincare line specializing in natural anti-aging products), points to recent research that suggests that applying antioxidants right after sun exposure can make a significant difference and help prevent free radicals from harming healthy tissues.
Exfoliants
Cool it on the Clarisonic and don’t schedule any in-office peels. “What I tell most of my clients during the summer if they are spending a lot of time at the beach and in the water is to be really much more gentle with their skin,” says Holey. “Cut way back on the exfoliating and turning over the skin and let that barrier layer become really lush and thick to protect.”
Vitamin C
That Vitamin C can work wonders on hyper-pigmentation is widely accepted as beauty fact, but not every product starring the ingredient is created equal. “Vitamin C is a great product only if it’s properly formulated, but it’s such a touchy compound that most products with it are oxidized by the time it gets on your skin,” Holey explains. A better bet is to try it straight. “Buy it in opaque capsule form then break it open and put it on the skin in a carrier that contains no water (like a nice oil-based serum) because water plus ascorbic can create sensitization.”
Same goes for Omega 3 EFAs (essential fatty acids like chia seed, flax seed and hemp seed oils), which, Peterson points out can protect against the damaging effects of sunlight by regulating your skin’s inflammatory response. Holey also advises that any clients dealing with sun damage also boost their antioxidant intake internally. “Definitely in food but also internal antioxidants [like pearl powder, licorice, lycopene, broccoli seed oil] and anti inflammatory supplements such as astaxanthin, turmeric and cucumin,” she says. “Drinking green tea is also beneficial or you can use it to make a toner.”
If you do find yourself with a burn—don’t fret, it happens to even the most fastidious sunblockers among us—aloe remains the favorite panacea of derms and esthecticians alike. Holey’s recipe for her gussied-up version? Take fresh aloe from the plant and blend it with rosewater for an extra-hydrating effect, and lime if your skin is stressed out or tulsi or holy basil to really decrease the stress from sun damage. “Another nice thing for bringing down inflammation is to take strips of dried white algae, soak them in boiling water and create a gel,” Holey says. “Once it’s cool, spread it all over the skin to remineralize, rebalance and offer a protective layer.”  

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