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Treating Aged or Sun-Damaged Skin

What is photoaging?

Too much sun exposure can cause premature aging of your skin. This premature wrinkling and skin damage from sun exposure is called photoaging. Photoaging is not like natural aging. It causes:

  • Coarse, dry skin

  • Freckling and skin discoloration

  • Leathery skin

  • Deep wrinkles

Prevention is the best treatment for photoaging. Wearing sunscreen and avoiding excessive sun exposure are key. A daily facial moisturizer with an SPF of at least 15 may help eliminate the need for the sometimes-expensive procedures listed below.

Treatment for sun-damaged skin

No one can stop the natural process of aging, as the skin thins and lines and wrinkles appear. Moles, scars, and birthmarks also tend to change as we age. In addition, sun damage over the course of a lifetime worsens the aging skin. Sometimes advanced signs of aging and sun damage require more invasive dermatology procedures, such as:

  • Botulinum toxin type A. Injecting botulinum toxin into certain muscles blocks signals from the nerves to the muscles. The muscles that are injected no longer contract. This prevents the muscles from forming wrinkles and furrows. Using botulinum will soften existing wrinkles. But it won’t prevent the signs of aging. It is most often used for forehead lines and the lines between and around the eyes.

  • Chemical peels. Chemical peels are often used to minimize sun-damaged skin, irregular skin color (pigment), and superficial scars. The top layer of skin is removed or irritated with a chemical applied to the skin. Inflammation results, and new skin regenerates. This often improves its appearance.

  • Soft tissue augmentation or dermal filler injections. A soft tissue filler is injected beneath the skin to replace the body's natural collagen that has been lost. There are many different kinds of fillers available. Fillers are generally used to treat wrinkles, scars, and facial lines. They also treat wrinkles caused by volume loss and repetitive muscle contraction. Fillers are also used to plump up lips and enhance shallow contours and cheekbones.

  • Dermabrasion. This may be used to minimize small scars, minor skin surface irregularities, surgical scars, and acne scars. This treatment removes the top layers of skin with a manual or electrical machine that scrapes (abrades) the skin. As the skin heals from the procedure, the surface looks smoother and fresher. It can be used for the whole face or for certain areas or scars. Dermabrasion is sometimes used for aging. But it has generally been replaced by other methods. Microdermabrasion is a gentler type of dermabrasion. It uses small particles passed through a vacuum tube to remove aging skin and stimulate new skin growth. This procedure works best on mild to moderate skin damage. It may require several treatments.

  • Laser skin resurfacing. Laser skin resurfacing uses high-energy light to burn away damaged skin. Laser resurfacing may be used to minimize wrinkles and fine scars. It is also used to reduce enlarged oil glands, lighten up sunspots, and remove wart-like growths. A newer treatment option is called nonablative resurfacing. This type of resurfacing also uses a laser and sometimes electrical energy. But it does not damage the top layers of skin.

  • Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy. IPL therapy is different from laser therapy because it delivers multiple wavelengths of light with each pulse (lasers deliver only one wavelength). IPL is a type of nonablative therapy. This means it does not damage the top layers of skin.

  • Tretinoin treatment. This prescription skin cream, which is a form of vitamin A, can reduce wrinkles, rough skin, fine lines, and discolored skin.

Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Lehrer MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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