Sun damaged skin is most often characterized by uneven skin tone and thickened or coarse skin texture. Fine lines and wrinkles may be just beginning to appear, or they can have evolved into deep wrinkles and loss of tone.
To understand how to undo the damage, it will be helpful to fully understand how it happened and what happened in the first place.
When UV light strikes the skin there are several types of damage that occur – free radical damage and the damage the sunlight inflicts directly on a cell – to its DNA material and the subsequent damage caused by the cell’s release of MMPs.
When cells are exposed to UV light, they send out stress signals known as cytokines. The release of these stress signals triggers a wound-healing response characterized by the release of collagenase (MMP-1) and elastase (MMP-12). These enzymes are designed to clear away dead or injured tissue and make room for new skin. However, they also tend to create collateral damage – chewing up pieces of healthy collagen and elastin and leaving the remnants behind, preventing new collagen from forming. The resulting injury is called a “microscar” - and over the years, thousands of them accumulate and result in a face full of wrinkles.
Another type of damage that occurs during sun exposure is the kind of damage that leads to cell mutation and, in some cases, to cancer. When sunlight strikes the chemicals that makes up your DNA, two of its parts can become fused together, like two pages of a book stuck together. The result is that the coded instructions on this part of the DNA cannot be read, affecting the cell’s ability to function. At the same time, when the cell divides and attempts to transfer its genetic information to the new cell – the new cell “inherits” incomplete DNA material. It doesn’t take long before this process to become crippling to the cells, resulting in mutations and early cell death (which lead to photoaging and/or skin cancer)
Naturally, the body has in place its own DNA repair
mechanisms. Its cells respond to DNA damage by unleashing a complex of enzymes designed to hunt down and patch up the damage. But, this is an enormous task that takes time. Sometimes, and especially as we get older, the repair is not completely finished before a cell with broken DNA duplicates, and in order to do so, it has to skip past the damage – changing the DNA code itself.
As we age, our DNA repair process slows down and the time needed to repair the cells becomes longer and longer – resulting in the accumulation of damaged cells (which reproduce and create mutated cells).
Free Radical Damage
Free radicals are unstable molecules that are missing an electron in the outer pair of the molecular orbit, and are looking for a second electron to complete their pair. They stabilize themselves by stealing electrons from the lipids within the skin’s membranes. These damaged lipids then turn around and snatch electrons from neighboring molecules. Pretty soon, a chain reaction of electron robbery is underway, leaving in its wake a string of crippled molecules, like a run in a nylon stocking. Free radicals can damage virtually every part of a cell, including the DNA within the nucleus of a cell (for more information on DNA damage and repair, visit our DNA repair enzymes page). If they take an electron from a collagen molecule in the skin, the collagen becomes damaged. When collagen gets damaged, it results in stiff, wrinkled, discolored skin.
So, now that the damage is done – what can you do to repair it?
The fastest way to improving the look of sundamaged skin is to first address the hyperpigmentation and coarse, uneven texture. The use of an exfoliant such as Retinol
or Alpha Hydroxy Acids
coupled with a skin lightener like Hydroquinone
or Hydroquinone alternatives
(kojic acid, azelaic acid, arbutin, niacinamide) will even out skin tone, reduce pore size, and dramatically soften and improve skin texture within a matter of months.
Once the skin tone has evened out, you can turn your attention to reversing some of the interior problems – damaged collagen, elastin, and DNA.