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How to Prevent and Treat Sun Damage

Address Sun Damage Before It Becomes Permanent.


Photo: Shutterstock

A lot of us may be trying to make up for lost time this summer after a year-long quarantine. As restrictions ease and we venture out to soak up some much-needed vitamin D, it’s prudent to remember that sun protection extends beyond SPF. In fact, there are ways to prepare skin now to prevent incremental sun damage from occurring and ways to reverse the damage, should it happen.

Not to Scare You But…

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, cumulative UV damage accounts for 90 percent of aging skin appearance. That means that sun exposure has the single largest effect on how and why our skin ages the way it does. Sun exposure allows significant amounts of external energy in the form of UV rays to be absorbed into your skin.

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Daily, small, incremental amounts of UV energy cause long-term changes to skin cell DNA, often without any visible or painful acute burn symptoms. The damage to skin collagen and elastic structure is cumulative over a lifetime. These are the changes that cause visible aging due to lax skin, wrinkling, irregular pigment, and even development of skin cancers.

Prevention Over Correction, Always

Prevention with a broad-spectrum daily sunscreen is always our first line of defense when it comes to staving off signs of aging and skin cancer. You probably know the importance of SPF, but with so many formulas, ingredients, and ratings available, let’s break it down. You do not need SPF 100. In fact, there is a sweet spot.

  • The magic number I call SPF 43 the magic number when it comes to sunscreen. Look for a sunscreen with a mix of octisalate, octinoxate, and zinc oxide in the maximum allowable percentages as designated by the FDA. With this specific ingredient profile, you are able to achieve the widest and most complete sun wavelength/UV energy spectrum (for both UVA and also UVB) protection while maintaining a non-greasy, easily absorbable texture for all skin types that won’t irritate eyes. Afterall, it’s a lot easier to encourage sunscreen wearing if the formula feels good on the skin.

The odd number SPF 43 is the most effective sun protection for these reasons:

  1. Each active ingredient traps different wavelengths than other actives
  2. It delivers the maximum non-oily moisturizing effect to the skin
  3. It provides the widest spectrum protection of both UVA (aging) and UVB (cancer-causing) wavelengths
  4. It won’t burn or sting eyes if sweat or swimming causes migration
Incorporate Antioxidants to Repair Sun Damage

In addition to sunscreen, antioxidants are arguably the most important ingredient to maintain healthy skin long-term by neutralizing aging free radicals like pollution, smoke, and UV rays. Vitamin C has long reigned as the gold standard of natural antioxidant protection thanks to its ability to capture harmful free radicals. It also is exclusive as being absolutely essential for creating new or repairing damaged collagen.

However, topical vitamin C has limitations:

  • Once a harmful free radical is captured, vitamin C cannot perform any action to repair or form new collagen
  • Vitamin C does its important work deep inside the skin in places more easily reached by a dietary vitamin C source
  • If a vitamin C molecule captures a free radical, it cannot function to connect amino acids into collagen and elastin in skin until it can give up the radical
Enhance your Vitamin C with Oligomeric Proantho Cyanidans (OPC)
  • OPC is exclusive in its ability to both preserve and restore “spent” vitamin C
  • OPC enables full activity from vitamin C in the body to rebuild skin collagen.

OPC is like a lifeguard protecting all vitamin C, as it easily “steals away” free radicals that vitamin C has attached to itself. OPCs are 20-times more effective than vitamin C as free-radical scavengers and 50-times more potent than vitamin E. This makes them an absolutely essential part of your daily skin protection. Harvested from a special French maritime pine bark, OPC is clinically proven to be the most effective of all the antioxidants. The bark contains a saturated content of highly active antioxidant particles, which are preserved during their harvest, ensuring the active ingredient remains pure and potent.

FUN FACT: OPCs were used to treat scurvy in the 1500s. Scurvy is caused by a lack of available vitamin C in the body to restore collagen after free radical capture has occurred, therefore oral OPCs were vital to treatment.

Layer an OPC serum under your SPF for the ultimate free-radical protection. Using an OPC plus SPF is like having a raincoat and an umbrella.

Course Correct to Heal Sun Damage

We all know prevention is best, but can permanent DNA damage to skin be prevented after the burn exposure has occurred? The answer is now an amazing yes, but action is needed before the burn symptoms are fully developed. Action must happen in the first four to six hours after sun exposure.

Methods for soothing acute sunburn injury used for generations include cool wet washcloths to lower the skin temperature. Topical applications of vinegar, heavy cream, and aloe vera gel are often used to comfort burned skin, but these can only soothe the pain, lower the feeling of “heat” in the skin, and possibly minimize some swelling. They do not prevent fluid-filled blisters or redness from inflammation. And the burned skin surface that was hoped to become a tan begins to peel off in 10 days or so.

If you lingered too long at the beach, forgot to reapply your SPF, or perhaps even burned yourself with your curling iron, there’s a better way to prevent skin damage.

Say Yes to Lactic Acid to Treat Sun Damage

Lactic acid is essential as the primary mediator of many vital cellular biology reactions. It is an acid with low pH, because the hydrogen dissociates extremely easily from the lactate. In reality, the acidity is very close to that of Coca-Cola. But, like Coke or vinegar, the lactic acid is not caustic, painful, or harmful to skin. In fact, it is soothing and reverses the inflammatory cascade occurrence.

Application of lactic acid within six hours post-sun exposure:

  • Stops painful burning within 10 minutes
  • Erases redness in 24 hours
  • Restores normal skin temperature
  • Eliminates blistering and peeling

The lactic acid intervenes in the natural gene response in skin cells and the immune system to stop the progression of redness, pain, swelling, and blisters, thereby preventing long-lasting damage to skin. It may seem strange to use acid to treat a burn, but the lactic acid actually redirects incoming harmful UV energy into harmless, stored chemical energy.

Best of all, it works on all types of burns, from sun burns to thermal burns from curling irons or a hot BBQ. No beach bag should be without it.

Topical application of lactic acid, containing an ingredient that controls energy storage in every cell, directly to burned skin soon after the burn injury halts the progression of and then reverses the symptoms already present so that there is no skin damage as a result of the burn.

Soothe with Peptides

Throughout my career, which began treating severe burn patients, we developed soluble keratin peptides, noted for exceptional skin-saving properties with new collagen production. Ideal to rejuvenate sun-damaged skin, such peptides stimulate the natural mechanisms of the repair and formation of new matrix proteins, collagen, and elastin in human skin, making them exceptionally effective at treating weakened or damaged skin, including wrinkles, sun damage, or environmental injury, as well as rashes, burns, cuts, abrasions and other skin issues or irritations. They’re just one of the many innovations transforming suncare as we know it.  

About The Author
James Beckman, M.D.

A biochemist and board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon, James is also the CEO and founder of Therapon Skin Health, a skincare company offering products addressing a wide variety of skin conditions including acne, deep wrinkles, and uneven skintone. Through his extensive research to restore skin mobility to burn patients, James discovered a way to redirect external energy delivered to the skin into harmless stored chemical energy rather than into harmful free radicals, damaged DNA, or altered structural protein. For more info, follow @theradermclinical or visit