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sunburned skin

How to Treat Sun-Damaged Skin

Is a Solution for:
Hyperpigmentation, Sun Protection for Body, Sun Protection for Face, Sun Spots, Sunburn
Reviewed by Christina May 6, 2014 13 Comments

Sun damage manifests itself on our skin in many ways including irregular coloring or pigmentation of the skin, sun or age spots, freckles, melasma and of course, wrinkles. We all know the importance of preventing sun damage by using broad-spectrum sunscreen and by avoiding the sun during peak hours, but is there any way to fix damage once it has set in? Fortunately, yes. Certain vitamins, actives and treatments have demonstrated their ability to repair and even reverse the signs of sun damage. Read on for our recommendations.

Protect Skin


First things first: You want to prevent sun damage by using a sunscreen, but the type of sunscreen you use is very important. It is always best to choose natural alternatives to dangerous chemicals. Mineral sunscreens are a good option, although ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide still raise safety concerns. Your best bet is to layer natural antioxidants under sunscreen. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, antioxidants offer a second, "active" level of protection — astaxanthin, ginger and reishi mushrooms are good antioxidants to look for. Effective sunscreens that combine antioxidants and sun protection include Snowberry Everyday SPF15 - Broad Spectrum Sun Protection ($36), Prana Natural Defense SPF 25 ($39 in the shop) and Suntegrity Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen and Primer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($45 in the shop).

Repair Skin


For skin that is sun damaged and wrinkled, exfoliation is indispensable. Exfoliation removes dead outer skin cells, deep cleans pores and improves circulation. Glycolic and alpha hydroxy acids are extremely effective and relatively gentle, as well as being natural (glycolic comes from sugar cane and AHAs from fruit or lactic acids). Products with these ingredients can be used as much as every other day at first, but once you start to see results it is a good idea to gradually pull back, aiming for once a week as a pick-me-up. Good products to try include Lumavera Glycolic Night Cream ($80), Lumixyl GlycoPeel 20 Rapid Exfoliating Lotion ($60) and Sevani's Ageless Radiance Refining AHA Cleanser ($39 in the shop).

Other options for exfoliation include facial brushing and scrubs. A powered facial brush such as our exclusive Ultra Clear Facial Cleansing System works more effectively than a normal brush as the head rotates and oscillates. Scrubs are very helpful for removing dead cells and improving circulation, and may also deliver some nutrients to sun-damaged skin before being rinsed off. Try scrubbing about twice a week with Sciote Antioxidant Scrub & Masque ($50 in the shop), Red Flower Bioactive Berry White Peat Exfoliant ($66) and Skinfinite Micro Derma Scrub ($35).

Vitamins A-B-C

Retinol, or vitamin A, is considered a thorough exfoliator, and this repeated shedding of the upper dermal layer forces the skin to produce new cells and stimulate collagen production. Although it is an antioxidant and cell communicator that encourages new cell turnover, vitamin A in skincare can be very irritating and drying for those with sensitive, dry skin. NOTE: All retinols will make skin more sensitive to the sun and so are best used at night or followed with a sunscreen. To address some of these issues, we recommend vitamin A/retinol products that counterbalance with good antioxidants, such as Skinfinite Platinum PM Cream 1% Retinol ($79 in the shop), Prana Reverse A ($48 in the shop) and Arcona Vitamin A Complex ($68).

Niancinamide, or vitamin B3, has been proven to tackle wrinkles, uneven skin tone, melasma and hyperpigmentation. Among its many benefits, it leads to an increase in protein synthesis, has a stimulating effect on ceramide synthesis and inhibits photocarcinogenesis. Potent skin care products that feature niacinamide include Osmotics Lighten FX Serious Brightening Solution ($62), M.A.D Skincare Illuminating Daily Moisturizer, Stemulation Boost Creme ($75) and Your Best Face Balance ($45 in the shop).

Vitamin C is prized for its antioxidant qualities and its well-known role in boosting the immune system and synthesizing collagen, but did you know it can also repair DNA damage, fade hyperpigmentation and correct rosacea? Since it can unstable and drying as an ingredient, we recommend gentle formulations such as E'shee Clinical Esthetic Vitalizing C Serum ($119), Your Best Face Advanced CE Concentrate ($50 in the shop) and Medik8 CE-Tetra ($115 in the shop).

Active Ingredients

Since sun spots and hyperpigmentation take many years to form, erasing this not an overnight step. However, there are several potent actives that can help to correct irregular pigmentation — no need to resorted to harmful chemicals such as hydroquinone and bleach.

M-tranexamic acid is a derivative of the amino acid lysine and it inhibits UV induced hyperpigmentation and melanocyte activity. It targets localized areas of irregular melanin distribution, such as a melasma patch or a dark spot. You can find m-tranexamic acid in E'shee Intensive Brightening Serum ($119).

Lumiskin, also known as diacetyl boldine, is a skin lightening agent that is believed to inhibit the body's melanin production (skin pigmentation). Lumiskin is featured in M.A.D Spot On serum ($42).

Bearberry was in the spotlight recently thanks to Dr. Oz. Bearberry contains arbutin, which is a natural skin brightener that works by blocking tyrosinase, the enzymes that get activated by UV light and ultimately form melanins — freckles and age spots. You can find this ingredient in Arcona Instant Magic Reversal Serum ($105).

Green LED Light

Green LED light in particular helps with skin discoloration and other forms of hyperpigmentation, so it is a great choice for sun spots. Green light targets melanocytes, melanin-producing cells located in the bottom layer of the skin's epidermis. It prevents it from traveling to the skin's surface, and breaks up melanin clusters to diminish existing discoloration. Our Truth Renew Ultrasonic & LED Anti-Aging System ($109) has simple controls for selecting the LED light of choice — red, green or blue LED — and the intensity of the ultrasound. It also has a larger-than-average plate head for more efficient coverage of the face, neck and décolleté. Try using green LED light therapy a few times a week to boost your skin care regimen.

Finally — and most importantly — always pay close attention to your skin. Perform skin self-exams regularly , go for an actual skin check and if you notice that the size, shape or color of a dark spot has changed or become painful, promptly make an appointment with your dermatologist to rule out the possibility of melanoma.

  • March 3, 2016

    by Nina

    I am fair faced, freckled, and whenever I have spent too much time in the sun without sunblock I put a CE ferulic serum on the skin right away and the sunburn disappears before my eyes. It is insane! The brand I use is stinky and the serum is thick and gross, but it works so well I keep it around in those rare instances this happens!

  • May 7, 2014

    by Kelly Fleischaker

    I am your perfect tester! A grown up freckle faced kid who now is blessed to live in Arizona sun. Sunscreen is an everyday must and I'm pretty particular as so may cause breakouts or make me look like a ghostly mess. Anxious to try something with some built in good for you ingredients.

  • May 7, 2014

    by LeAnn

    I would like to test the Medik8 sunscreen for you. I'm fair skinned and freckled - even at 51! I live near the beach in Florida and I'm constantly looking for better protection for my skin. Both of my parents have had skin cancer so I take this very seriously.

    Thanks for a great website! The information is priceless.

  • May 7, 2014

    by Brenda Dean

    I wear sunscreen everyday I currently use Prana & have tried Suntegrity. 3 years ago I had MOHs surgery to remove a large area of Basal Cell Carcenoma on my upper chest area, so needless to say, I get checked by the Dermatologist every 6 months! I would love to try the Medik8 Physical Sunscreen because my youngest son wants to join the Summer (outdoor) swim team! Thanks Marta for keeping us in the know!

  • May 7, 2014

    by lisa m

    I am very pale and wear sunscreen but I haven't found one that I really loved yet. I burn easily if I don't have sunscreen on. I do get sun spots on my arms and hands so I try to keep putting more on and especially around my face, neck and ears.
    I am fair that I also have to add sunscreen to my hairline because I have burned my scalp before at the beach! I would love to try Medik8 physical sunscreen to protect and correct sun damage.

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