How to Reverse the Effects of Sun Damage on the Skin

We caught up with Skincare aesthetics expert Dr Ahmed El Muntasar, who  runs an aesthetics practice in Mayfair London, Manchester and Cheshire, He is the UK’s most followed aesthetics doctor (over 675k followers on Instagram), and is also a NHS GP.

Our relationship with the sun is complex; it’s like that on/off romantic relationship all of us have had! We know the sun isn’t good for our skin, but so many of the things that come with the sun – holidays, days at the beach, enjoying some drinks in the sun and picnics – are great fun.

The reality is though that once the sun has damaged our skin, it’s not easy to reverse. In fact reverse isn’t really the right phrase as it suggests we can take our skin back to what it was. That’s not possible. Once damage is done to the skin’s DNA it will never go back to being exactly the same. But we can repair the damage and help restore our skin’s health once again.

Exposure to UV rays – particularly UVA rays which are from the sun – denatures the DNA in our skin cells, so the top layer of skin essentially becomes dead and sheds off. It also causes collagen to break down and results in the skin ageing process to speed up. Typical signs of sun damage include the initial sun burn but then later down the line increased lines, wrinkles and age spots. To combat damage is quite complex and needs to be tackled from both the inside and the outside. 

One simple way to help nourish your skin from the inside is by drinking plenty of water. This keeps skin hydrated and maintains elasticity, which helps reduce wrinkles and soft lines.

For similar reasons, it’s a good idea to avoid alcohol. The reason so many people feel thirsty the morning after a heavy drinking session is that alcohol dehydrates you. It’s a diuretic and so you lose a lot more water by going to the bathroom more frequently. Dehydration causes lines and wrinkles to be more visible and skin to be duller. So increasing your water and decreasing your alcohol intake will help to encourage your skin’s natural repair.

Tackling sun damage from the outside involves various treatments and products. Ultimately, what we’re looking to do is use treatments and products that help repair the skin’s dermis and epidermis, which are the top two layers of skin, and encourage the production of collagen. Our skin’s collagen naturally decreases with age – and sun damage speeds this up even more. After the age of 20, we produce around 1% less collagen each year, gradually causing the skin to lose its plumpness and appear thinner and more fragile.

The three key ingredients to look for in skincare products are Vitamin C, Retinol (Vitamin A) and SPF. We don’t get enough Vitamin C from diet alone and this helps the skin look a lot brighter and gives you a glow from within. Choose a product which contains Vitamin C in ascorbic acid form. This is absorbed easily into your cells and is the only one that has scientific research to back-up the claims that it can help skin.

Retinol (Vitamin A) is also amazing for skin; it essentially helps repair the healthy dermis and epidermis and stimulates the reproduction of new skin cells. Without it skin can become very dry and dull.

In addition, the two ingredients that have strong medical research behind them showing they help with anti-ageing and skin recovery is SPF and Retinol, so these are without a doubt essential. Retinol repairs the healthy dermis and epidermis, increasing skin cell turnover and stimulating thereproduction of new skin cells, enabling fresher, smoother skin to be produced much faster, reducing classic sun damage signs such as wrinkles and fine lines.

SPF is an obvious one. The concern this year is that with many of us holidaying in the UK as opposed to travelling abroad due to the pandemic, we’re likely to see people not using SPF daily. Although the sun in the UK isn’t as hot as some foreign destinations, the UV rays are still high enough to cause sun damage to our skin and it’s so important we don’t disregard SPF protection.

 The SPF in make-up is also slightly misleading. Technically, if a foundation has SPF20 in it, then that’s what it has but realistically this will not provide enough protection. In orderto achieve the level of SPF on the bottle you would need to apply so much product it would look completely odd and far too heavy. It’s much better to use a separate SPF and that way you have the coverage you need. I always recommend SPF50, no less. Re-application should happen every 2-3 hours, potentially more if you’ve been swimming or if you’re sweating a lot as not all SPFs are water-resistant and many become less effective if they become wet.

 In terms of aesthetics treatments, the ultimate one I recommend to help combat sun damage is Ellanse – a new type of dermal filler. As well as helping to correct lines and wrinkles, this new product also stimulates the body’s natural collagen production. So not only is it giving you immediate results, the results last a lot longer as your skin’s collagen is given a boost as well.

Another great treatment is the ‘vampire facial’ –which became really well known when Kim Kardashian-West had one and publicly shared pictures of her face. The vampire facial, also known as Platelet-Rich Plasma (PLP), uses the body’s own natural resources for healing. The treatment takes around 45 minutes and sees blood extracted and separated in a centrifruge, so that the plasma can be concentrated. It is then injected back into the skin, to promote new collagen growth and reduce the signs of ageing.

Prevention is key in all of this; and saves you a lot of time (and money) reversing damage the sun has caused. Wear SPF50 daily, whether you’re in a hot climate or not, keep your face shaded where possible and avoid lying in the sun for hours on end. All quite simple things but your skin will be thanking you when you’re looking youthful, fresh and healthy as you get older.

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