How to Get Rid of Sun Damage Post-Vacation
Healthy sun habits are important everyday, but especially if you’re going on a sun-filled vacation. So what if you return home from your week-long escape to the Caribbean with some extra freckles or worse, a sun spot? Thankfully there are many treatment options available, however it can be confusing to know what to select with all of the hyperpigmentation and sun damage products on the market.
We had the chance to ask Dr. Dusan Sajic, a board-certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist at the derma Skin Institute in Guelph, Ontario, to give us the scoop on what to look for in a product, how long you can expect to see results and the best way to prevent sun damage to begin with.
Even with the best intentions, we've come back from a sunny vacation with extra freckles and maybe even a sun spot on our face. What's the best way to get rid/reduce the appearance of them?
Always consult with a board-certified dermatologist on this matter as not all freckles are the same. Freckles (lentigo), photo damage, actinic keratoses and early flat seborrheic keratoses can initially look very similar to the untrained eye. More importantly, one should be assessed to ensure one of those brown spots is not a cancer like an early melanoma or a pigmented bowens disease. Once these are ruled out, the treatment will depend on the severity. In general, I think skincare is an essential component of pre-treatment, treatment and prevention after the goals are achieved.
Often a multi-faceted and step wise approach is warranted. The most evidence for skincare lines comes from Sunscreen, Hydroquinone, Vitamin C and E, Retinoids, and chemical peels. They all work slightly differently and attack the problem from different angles. I would start with those and see how far that takes you. If needed your dermatologist may need to add on Chemical peels, micro-needling or laser treatments for optimal results.
There are so many products out there that are designed to help you get rid of hyperpigmentation. What type of ingredient should you focus on using if you only want to start with one key product (ie. Vitamin C, acid, etc)?
You are right, there is a lot of stuff out there. First of all, I would discuss this with your board certified dermatologist to ensure that you have a customized and individualized treatment plan fo you. In general, a combination approach has been shown to be superior to any individual product. This is why “pigmentation kits” are available. I find they help simplify the regiment and give the most bang for the buck. As mentioned above most evidence for skincare lines comes from sunscreen, Hydroquinone, Vitamin C and E, Retinoids and chemical peels. If you have never used these products it may be too much for your skin to start all at once — it may work too well and cause a lot of skin peeling.
Sunscreen is by far the most important as it not only prevents new sun spots but also protects you from skin cancer. It is not great at removing existing brown spots, however. To this end I would recommend you start with a Vitamin C product as it helps to restore and repair your skin while also targeting the brown discolouration. I would then add a chemical peel containing glycolic acid and lactic acid to strip away the superficial layers and to hydrate the skin respectively.
Finally, I would add on retinoids to the mix slowly, starting with once to twice a week and working your way up to once daily. Hydroquinone is a great option but consult with your dermatologist to ensure you are using it properly. Products containing arbutin have come onto market recently and studies have shown that they can have similar effects to hydroquinone. As such you can consider this as well.
Overall the most important aspect is picking the right company. The chemistry needed to make these products work properly can be quite complex. Ensure that you pick a brand that has scientifically proven results. There is a lot of junk out there. Vitamin C and E are particularly hard to make. Ask your doctor about the specific brands and the research behind them.
If you have a lot of hyperpigmentation that has built up over time (or many trips!), how should you skincare regime differ from someone who only has a couple spots to address?
As with many things in life — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. More severe damage not only requires more aggressive management with home care products but is likely to require professional treatment in the clinic — like lasers, professional grade peels or other types of resurfacing. Protecting and treating yourself early is key.
How long does it take for you to see results from using products at home?
Results from home care products are typically slower and can take a few months to notice difference. Most studies addressing this look at 3-4 months out. It is important to stick with the regiment recommended to you by your doctor.
When it comes to chemical vs. mineral sunscreen — does it matter which one you should use on your face if you're looking to prevent hyperpigmentation? And what would you recommend someone using?
Excellent question! The two work quite differently. Mineral sunscreen is great as it blocks the light (including daylight) while the chemical sunscreen scatter it. In general it is important to pick a sunscreen that is broad spectrum and covers UVA an UVB. In some people even visible light can cause pigmentation and as such this is another important factor to consider. SPF is another important factor and I would not recommend anything below SPF 30. Given that they work through different mechanisms I prefer that if possible, you use both. There are only a handful of products that combine both in one and these are the ones I would recommend to those seeking the most protection.
Aside from sunscreen and a hat, what other ways can you prevent yourself from getting more freckles and sun spots on your face?
It is becoming increasingly evident that sun is only part of the story behind sun damage, freckles, sunspots and even skin cancer. Pollution and even visible light significantly contribute to the damage. Pollution does it through the generation of reactive oxygen species that can wreak havoc on our skin cells. As such it is important to add a powerful antioxidant to the regimen. Among the best studies antioxidants are Vitamin C and E. Moreover, studies have shown that Vitamin C and E can also increase the Minimal Erythema Dose. This is the time it takes to burn in the sun! As such I think that it is important to add this to your daily routine. Also important would be getting UV protective film installed on your car windows. These can be completely clear.
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