Skin Care Blogs

The Perfect Routine to Prevent (and Undo) Sun Damage

Now that summer is around the corner, many of us are thinking, “I can’t wait to get outside and soak up some sun!” Meanwhile, your skin is thinking, “Oh no…not this again.” The sun may feel great on your face, but sun exposure can wreak havoc on your skin—and lead to lasting damage. Luckily, you can help prevent (and even undo) many of the signs of sun damage with the right skin care routine.

What Does Sun Damage Look Like?

“Sun damage is what happens when the skin is overexposed to the sun’s UV rays,” says Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist based in New York. “The UV rays can penetrate the skin even in the deepest layers and cause changes to DNA at the cellular level.”

In addition to increasing your risk for skin cancer (which is reason enough to protect yourself!), too much sun exposure can cause your skin to age prematurely.

“[Sun] damage can present as wrinkling; pigmentation changes, such as sun spots (solar lentigines), freckles, redness and blotchiness; loss of tone (decreased elasticity) and thinning of the skin; rough, uneven skin texture and broken capillaries,” says Dr. Young McMahan, a board-certified dermatologist with U.S. Dermatology Partners in Waco, Texas.

And even if your skin doesn’t show the signs yet, it doesn’t mean the sun isn’t doing damage. “It can take years for sun damage to become visible because of the depth at which the UV rays damage skin cells,” says Dr. Green.

How to Do (Sun) Damage Control

It’s never too late to start using sunscreen every day: Only about 47 percent of your lifetime sun exposure occurs by age 40, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. And ingredients like vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids and retinol can help minimize dark spots and wrinkles caused by sun damage. Starting good habits today can make a real difference—here’s a routine to help you begin.

  1. A Brightening Cleanser
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    A Brightening Cleanser

    Sun damage can make your skin look dull and lackluster—which is why a brightening cleanser that encourages cell turnover is the perfect way to start your A.M. and P.M. skin care routine.

    “The Brightening Facial Wash by Revision Skincare is one of my favorite cleansers that has an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) to exfoliate the dead skin and a BHA (beta hydroxy acid) to clean out deep pores and exfoliate to leave your face smoother and brighter,” says Dr. McMahan.

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  2. A Collagen-Boosting Antioxidant Serum
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    A Collagen-Boosting Antioxidant Serum

    When it comes to countering sun damage, vitamin-C serums pack a one-two punch, offering both protective and corrective benefits.

    “Vitamin C is best known for its collagen-boosting effect, and for protecting the skin barrier against free-radical sun damage,” says Dr. Green. “It is also a skin brightener with the ability to improve the skin tone and texture.”

    Our pick from Obagi contains 20 percent vitamin C to deliver professional-level protection and results. Apply in the morning after cleansing your skin.

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  3. A Moisturizer to Keep Skin Hydrated
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    A Moisturizer to Keep Skin Hydrated

    Sun damage can change the way your skin looks. But it can also change the way it feels and functions, particularly when it comes to hydration.

    “Sun damage, over time, decreases the skin’s ability to hold in moisture by breaking down the natural hyaluronic acid that attracts and holds water in your skin,” says Dr. McMahan.

    For this reason, a moisturizer—used both A.M. and P.M.—is an absolute must. Our pick from Eminence has shea butter to help replenish skin’s moisture barrier, as well as a host of botanical ingredients (including plant stem cells and a natural retinol alternative) to fight the visible signs of premature aging.

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  4. A Sunscreen for Everyday Protection
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    A Sunscreen for Everyday Protection

    Obviously, if you want to prevent sun damage, you need to protect your skin from the sun. And that means wearing sunscreen every day—no exceptions.

    “Sunscreen is imperative for preventing photoaging and skin cancer,” says Dr. McMahan. “Always look for a broad spectrum [sunscreen, which] protects the skin from UVA and UVB, with an SPF of 30 or higher.”

    Our choice from TULA checks all the boxes and also provides protection from pollution and blue light—and the gel formula won’t clog pores or leave a chalky cast on the skin.

    To get the best protection, apply your SPF as the last step of your daytime skin care routine, and reapply periodically throughout the day

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  5. A Corrective Night Serum to Even Skin Tone
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    A Corrective Night Serum to Even Skin Tone

    One of the most common signs of sun damage is dark spots and hyperpigmentation. This serum from Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare is packed with ingredients to help lighten dark spots and even out skin tone while you sleep.

    “This serum contains lactic, kojic and L-ascorbic acids that exfoliate, protect and repair the skin while providing an overall more even skin tone,” says Dr. Green.

    Use this night treatment in the evening after cleansing and before moisturizer. Don’t use it on the same nights you use a retinoid treatment (since combining these products could cause irritation).

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  6. A Retinoid Treatment to Boost Cellular Turnover
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    A Retinoid Treatment to Boost Cellular Turnover

    Nighttime is the best time to repair your skin. “When you are sleeping, your cells are renewing,” says Dr. Green. “Your nighttime skincare routine should contain ingredients which will facilitate cell turnover to give your skin the perfect morning glow.”

    And one of the most potent ingredients for facilitating cell turnover? Retinoids. In addition to a host of skin-boosting ingredients (including hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, glycolic acid and lactic acid), this sleeping facial from Allies of Skin contains a 1% retinoid formula, which helps to lighten dark spots, minimize pores and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

     Use this treatment in the evening after cleansing and before moisturizer, for 2-3 nights at a time when your skin needs a boost (it’s not for daily use).

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Beauty Reporter

Deanna deBara

Deanna deBara is a freelance writer based in Portland, OR. She focuses mostly on health and wellness content—and with a background in education for the beauty industry, skincare is one of her favorite topics to cover. When she's not busy writing, you're likely to find her hiking in the PNW with her husband and dog, attempting to recreate the masterpieces she sees on The Great British Bake-off, or reading about one of her niche, geek-inspired interests (like retro gaming).
You can follow her on Twitter at @Deanna_deBara.