Based on some of the e-mails I receive, it seems many of us are plagued with the results of too much time spent in the sun. Sun damage, including brown spots and fine lines, generally shows up in our 30s and 40s, although maintaining an active lifestyle can speed up the process.
A proliferation of gadgets and products promise to fade freckles and soften lines, but do they really work?
I presented some of the most frequently asked skincare questions to two top dermatologists: Dr. Amy Forman Taub, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Advanced Dermatology in Lincolnshire, Illinois and Dr. Neal Schultz, founder of BeautyRX, who has been practicing in New York for over 30 years.
Here is what they had to say:
MintStyle: I recently read a report saying the sun damage on your face probably isn’t as bad as you think it is. What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Taub: This isn’t our experience. When you look at an infrared or black light image of yourself (which allows us to easily see what is under the surface), most people gasp when they see the amount of damage on their face.
MintStyle: Are there any in-home, drugstore or even natural treatments for dealing with sun damage (brown spots in particular) that actually work?
Dr. Taub: Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening agent that is available in 2% over the counter. Also, any product with Vitamin C, arbutin (part of a licorice extract), retinol or alpha-hydroxy acid can help treat brown spots.
But the truth is, brown spots, otherwise known as sun freckles, aren’t easy to get rid of. Not only do they have more pigment, but they are also comprised of thickened and damaged skin.
You would need to have a regular routine for sun protection (including zinc oxide to block out the long waves of UVA) and some regular exfoliation, like light chemical peels or products containing retinol or alpha hydroxy acids. I am not in favor of scrubbing exfoliants with beads, as these can be irritating and even damaging.
Even if you did all that, you STILL may not be able to get rid of them. I find that lasers are the most effective.
MintStyle: I still like to use manual exfoliation at home. Do you have anything to advise me?
Dr. Taub: Manual exfoliation is only one piece, as I said above. You also need lighteners and protection. I am not a big fan of manual exfoliation, as it is too dependent on technique and if overdone, can actually worsen hyperpigmentation.
MintStyle: If someone has sun damage, is there any chance that regular exfoliation with something like the Clarisonic (an electric skin brushing system) can make any kind of difference?
Dr. Schultz: Yes, the Clarisonic exfoliating brush will provide physical exfoliation that will work to improve sun damage. However, chemical exfoliation is better than physical exfoliation.
With chemical exfoliation, you get a much more predictable and precise exfoliation. Therefore, you can acheive more precise and predictable results with far fewer irritations and side effects.
For example, with a state of the art, newer glycolic chemical exfoliant that is pH adjusted and buffered, the strength of that chemical exfoliant is completely consistent within the tube, from the first application to the last.
The amount of exfoliation you get and the results you acheive are proportional only to the strength of that acid. It has nothing to do with the amount of product you put on the skin.
However, with physical exfoliants, the depth of exfoliation you get depends on three things: how strongly you push or rub with the exfoliant, how long you scrub, and what the actual material is that you’re using.
What you’re using and how long you’re exfoliating for will determine how many dead cells you are actually removing. The harder I rub, the longer I rub, the more dead cells come off, but people are never consistent with how long they exfoliate or how hard they press.
MintStyle: What about pricier options and in-office treatments? What should we know going in? (Efficacy, cost range, results, number of treatments needed, etc.)
Dr. Taub: If you are just trying to get rid of a few sun freckles, then the most effective laser is the Q switched 532 laser. In one session I can treat about 10-20 spots and get over 80% improvement, although there is a week of peeling and crusting.
This isn’t a good way to treat more than a few freckles. If you have numerous freckles, then it is best to treat the entire face with either fraxel dual (2 treatments one month apart, totaling about $2,000 or more), or photorejuvenation with IPL (5 treatments 1 month apart for about the same price as fraxel).
Both of these treatments are quite effective in removing spots and damage but they also make the skin brighter, newer and more beautiful. If you only treat a few spots, then new spots will occur in the untreated areas, so this is also preventive.
MintStyle: Everyone discusses the need for SPF. Any other preventative measures or treatments?
Dr. Taub: I know it is boring that every dermatologist says SPF is the most important thing, but it is. Use an SPF 30 with a zinc oxide content of at least 5% to adequately block out the UVA (long) rays.
If you don’t use sunscreen EVERY DAY you will develop brown spots, wrinkles and, eventually, lax skin. UVA rays go through window glass, so unless you have zinc oxide on, you are NOT protected when you are in your car.
Hats are good but they only protect you from UV coming from above, not that which comes forward to your face. Sorry, but you cannot avoid using sunscreen.
Lasers and Gadgets: Do They Work?
MintStyle: Do at-home lasers (or even salon or spa ones) have as much impact as those at the dermatologist office?
Dr. Schultz: At-home lasers do not. However, lasers at a salon or spa can be the same as those found at a doctor’s office. When it comes to lasers in a salon or spa versus at a doctor’s office, it’s important to know who is operating the machine and if they have the knowledge and expertise to do so.
At-home lasers will not get as much power and, therefore, won’t have as much of an effect as in-office treatments.
MintStyle: Are skin gadgets helpful for sun damage and sun spots?
Dr. Schultz: The at-home gadgets that are helpful are the ones that say they help with lines and wrinkles, as well as exfoliators and microdermabrasion. Although some will help with fine lines, they only make a small difference and take a lot of effort.
It’s all about managing expectations so you’re not disappointed. If you’re only looking for a 10-20% improvement, then this might be a good option for you. However, if you’re looking for a drastic improvement, turn to professional treatments.
Best Over-the-Counter Products for Sun Damage and Fine Lines
If you’re still not ready to take a trip to the doctor’s office, here are some great products to try at home:
- Improve the appearance of sunspots, melasma and hyperpigmentation with JF Aesthetics KojiLac-C™ Skin Brightening Cream (drfewbeauty.com) — created by celebrated surgeon Julius Few, MD.
- Winner of Allure Magazine’s “Best in Beauty” and Essence Magazine’s “Best In Black Beauty,” elure™Advanced Skin Brightening is hydroquinone-free and the first scientifically proven enzymatic skin whitening treatment that’s based on a naturally occurring bio-active substance, Melanozyme™, which decomposes melanin in a fast and safe manner without side effects and claims to provide noticeable improvement in skin tone in 28 days. Sold at www.skinfo.com.
- For uneven skin tone, hyperpigmentation, spots, dullness and sun damage, try ZO MEDICAL’s BRIGHTENEX™ (www.zomedical.com), a skin brightener and pigment correcting cream with a potent blend of 1.0% retinol, melanin inhibitors and antioxidants.
Rachel Weingarten tries her hardest to always use SPF. She’s a style expert, marketing strategist & personal branding consultant for CEOs, politicians and celebrities and the creator of MintStyle. She is the award-winning author of Career and Corporate Cool and Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ‘40s-‘60s. Visit her online at http://racheletc.com or on Twitter @rachelcw Write to her with your burning style questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.