5 Sun Damaged Skin Treatment Methods

Beauty, Skin Care

Did you know that wrinkles, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation can all come from sun damage? These common signs of aging are normal but can occur prematurely if you’re exposed to ultraviolet radiation.

Sun damage can wreak havoc on your complexion, and a nourishing skincare routine is crucial for repairing your skin.”

  • Shani Darden

While there are ways to fade the appearance of these effects, it’s much better to prevent them from occurring altogether. Read on for some of my tips on fading the effects of sun damage and preventing it from occurring in the first place.

What Is Photoaging?

Photoaging is another term for sun damage, although it’s a more accurate description of what’s actually happening. Essentially, photoaging is premature skin aging that occurs due to UV radiation.

The sun emits two types of UV rays: UVA, which is responsible for aging, and UVB, which is responsible for sunburn. UVA rays don’t burn your skin because they penetrate deeper into your skin. 

These UV rays can penetrate your skin and damage collagen fibers, which help your skin hold its shape. To compensate for the damaged collagen, your skin cells can start overproducing elastin. 

The rise in elastin levels triggers the production of an enzyme called metalloproteinase, which ordinarily helps build collagen. However, under the influence of UV radiation, metalloproteinase can damage collagen. In this case, your skin recovers from sun damage incorrectly, resulting in wrinkles and fine lines.

Meanwhile, skin cell damage can also trigger melanin production. Overproduction of melanin is a stress response that your skin may display due to many stressors, including potent skincare products or environmental stress. However, it’s a fairly common sign of sun damage.

Some common forms of melanin overproduction (also known as hyperpigmentation) include sun spots, freckles, age spots, and dark spots. This excess pigmentation is the reason for the tan you get after sun exposure. 

How Can I Reverse Sun Damage?

It’s very difficult to completely reverse sun damage, especially outside a clinical setting. Signs of sun damage like wrinkles can extend as far into your skin as the dermis, which is beyond the reach of over-the-counter (OTC) skincare solutions. 

Additionally, while some products claim to completely remove dark spots, this is not always possible. OTC products are formulated to target the top layer of skin called the epidermis – for damage extending into and past the dermis, you’ll need to see a licensed professional.

That said, many OTC products can do an excellent job of significantly fading the effects of sun damage . Here are some of my top recommendations for products and ingredients.


Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are skincare acids that function as chemical exfoliants. Popular ingredients in this category include lactic acid, glycolic acid, citric acid, and malic acid.

When used regularly, the resurfacing abilities of AHAs can slowly polish away the outermost layers of skin that hold shallow lines and light brown spots. With extended use, these acids can significantly improve the appearance of minor sun damage.

AHAs can also improve skin texture by clearing away dead skin cell buildup, which can help other skincare solutions better penetrate the skin.

LED Light Therapy

LED light therapy has been around for a while, but scientific research has recently picked up. NASA has even studied the health benefits of LED therapy.

LED therapy involves exposing the skin to certain wavelengths of light to achieve desired results. It may seem counterintuitive to address sun damage with more light, but the research backs it up.

Red LED therapy can stimulate collagen production, which helps the skin feel more firm and plump. This can help improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, achieving a more youthful appearance.

While many at-home LED masks pale compared to clinical devices, my Déesse PRO LED Light Mask brings clinical results to the comfort of your home. Not only can my mask boost collagen production, but an infrared setting can also help fade discoloration, dark spots, and acne scars.


Retinol is a type of retinoid that is derived from vitamin A. This ingredient is powerful, which means that it can have pretty quick effects.

Retinol can support proper skin cell turnover, which is how your skin renews itself. By maintaining cell turnover, signs of sun damage can fade much more quickly. 

I recommend my Retinol Reform. This award-winning formula includes retinol and lactic acid for brighter, younger-looking skin.

Chemical Peels

Chemical peels are products that incorporate AHAs and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) in high concentrations to help lift the top layer of skin on your face. Light chemical peels are available in OTC concentrations and are safe to use at home to improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. 

Our favorite at-home peels are Alpha-Beta Peel Pads by Dr. Dennis Gross. These peel pads incorporate both AHAs and BHAs for maximum effectiveness.

While light peels are safe to use at home once a week to slowly address signs of aging, medium and deep peels are best left to licensed professionals. These peels are so intense that you can only receive them a limited number of times, and they require a lot of downtime to recover.

Clinical Solutions

If your sun damage is severe, you may want to see a dermatologist. This is important because severe and long-term sun damage can easily lead to serious medical consequences. 

It’s also important because your dermatologist may recommend specialized clinical solutions that only licensed professionals can perform. These include laser treatment, intense pulsed light (IPL), laser therapy, microdermabrasion, microneedling, medium and deep chemical peels, and even dermal fillers.

How Can I Prevent Sun Damage?

As we mentioned, it’s nearly impossible to truly erase all traces of sun damage. Because of this, we recommend incorporating preventative measures into your daily skincare routine as soon as possible. Here are some ways you can prevent sun damage.


Sunscreen is a tried and true way to limit sun damage. While no sun protection can completely block all UV exposure, it can block most of it. 

Dermatologists recommend applying sunscreen with SPF 30 daily, which can protect against 97 percent of UV rays if applied correctly. I recommend applying one ounce of sunscreen every two hours or as directed on the packaging.

The FDA only requires sunscreen to protect against UVB rays. To get protection from UVA rays that cause premature aging, look for sunscreens labeled “broad-spectrum.”

Anti-aging products like AHAs, chemical peels, and retinol can all cause sun sensitivity. In these cases, even sunscreen may not be as effective as normal.

In these situations, I recommend limiting sun exposure during the hot parts of the day from 10 am to 4 pm. I also recommend wearing sun-blocking clothing when going outdoors.

Incorporate Antioxidants

Although there are a lot of factors that contribute to sun damage, one of the main ones is oxidative stress. 

UV rays produce free radicals, which are unstable atoms that can cause damage to your skin and even the rest of your body as they seek stability. Antioxidants can help support the health of your skin cells during exposure to stressors like UV rays so that you can maintain a glowing complexion.

Although you can incorporate antioxidants into your diet, you can also apply them topically to fortify your skin against oxidative stress. Powerful topicalantioxidants include l-ascorbic acid (vitamin C), tocopherol (vitamin E), and niacinamide (vitamin B3). While these ingredients are no replacement for sunscreen, they can provide an extra layer of protection.

Final Thoughts

Getting some sun feels nice, but too much sun exposure can result in sun damage. Sun damage occurs when UV rays damage your skin cells, causing premature signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots.

Although you can fade the appearance of sun damage using products like LED masks and retinol, it’s impossible to truly erase every trace of damage. Because of this, we recommend also focusing on prevention tactics like sunscreens and antioxidants to keep your skin looking young and healthy for years to come.



Photoaging: What You Need to Know About the Other Kind of Aging | The Skin Cancer Foundation

A Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment in Patient Satisfaction, Reduction of Fine Lines, Wrinkles, Skin Roughness, and Intradermal Collagen Density Increase | Photomedicine and Laser Surgery

Ask the Expert: How Much Sunscreen Should I Be Using on My Face and Body? | The Skin Cancer Foundation