Photoaging: What It Is and What to Do About It
Skin aging, including that from the sun (photoaging), is inevitable. However, we do have some degree of control over how the skin changes over time and it is treatable. One of the fastest ways to age healthy, firm, youthful-looking skin is to spend too much time in the sun. Sunlight is made up of a spectrum of different rays. Some of these, the UVA rays, can even penetrate through a thick layer of clouds, penetrate into shade and buildings and cars, and are present all the time. These rays also get absorbed into the skin, causing cellular changes that result in what is called photoaging.
Photoaging is simply aging that is caused by exposure to UV light. This may come from sunlight and also from tanning beds. Signs of photoaging and their cause include:
- Spots and hyperpigmentation. These may look like freckles, flat moles, large spots, or general blotchiness from injury of the melanocyte (the pigment producing cell).
- Fine lines and wrinkles from loss of collagen thinning the support layer of the skin and from loss of elastin. This is increased past 30 years of age since the body normally stops making collagen and elastin about then.
- Telangiectasia or increased red vascularity from the body constantly turning in its healing, which dilates blood vessels near the injury to bring in the immune/healing system. After continually doing this, the vessels just stay.
- Precancerous lesions that look red and rough or scaly from more severe injury of the cells. These are referred to as actinic keratoses.
Photoaging affects any area where the UVA rays can reach, and they can penetrate most clothing. It is, therefore, also commonly seen on the hands, arms, shoulders, legs, back, chest, ears, nose, lips, and other parts of the face.
What to Do About Photoaging
Our best advice for our patients is to try and prevent photoaging by avoiding as much sun exposure as possible. Even on a cloudy day, it is wise to wear broad-spectrum zinc oxide sunscreen on all exposed areas and wear sun protective clothing. Zinc is the only practical sunblock as it need to be reapplied only if you wash or wipe it off. All the others last at most 2 hours, and only an hour if outdoors. You can make normal clothing sun protective by washing them in Rit Sun-Guard. See our Info Sheet.
Once you have photoaging damage, there are several ways to correct it, including:
- Using quality skincare. Basic skin care includes an exfoliant to remove the excess cells caused by sun damage and time. It also includes a good sunblock to prevent further damage. To this, you can add ingredients like antioxidants like Vitamins-C to combat the breakdown of collagen caused by free-radicals. At 30, or if you have wrinkles,you add a retinol or tretinoin (Vitamin-A) and Obagi’s ELASTIderm to stimulate collagen and elastin production. If you have spots, we add hydroquinone. If you need all, the best option is Obagi’s Nu-Derm System.
- Antioxidants are also consumable and are found in citrus fruits and leafy green vegetables.
- Light chemical peels. Regardless of how pricy your skincare products are, they are of little value if there is a layer of dead skin cells blocking their absorption. Chemical peel treatment gently sloughs off this layer of cellular debris to reveal healthier, more uniform skin.
- Microdermabrasion does the same thing as a light chemical peel, it removes the uppermost layer of nonvital skin cells. This procedure works through gentle ablation using microparticles that dislodge cellular debris so it can be suctioned away from the epidermis.
- Microneedling can also help produce collagen and reduce light wrinkling.
- Significant wrinkles can be treated by filler injection using a hyaluronic acid filler that will stimulate collagen production.
- Leveling peels and laser smooth the skin and increase the collagen production. They are useful for severely wrinkled skin.
- Ellipse IPL® treatment is a form of light therapy that breaks up red or brown discoloration in or beneath the skin. It can treat both brown pigmentation and red telangiectasia. IPL, intense pulsed light, is a popular treatment for photodamage due to its effectiveness with little to no downtime.