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How to repair your face after too much sun

  • Story Highlights
  • Best way to avoid skin problems is avoiding sun burns
  • Treatment for damage can include lasers and chemical peels
  • Wear a sunblock if you sit next to window on an airplane
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By Ning Chao
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InStyle

(InStyle) -- Skin 101: How to treat and protect against sun damage.

art.bosworth.jpg

Kate Bosworth plays it safe in the sun with a wide-brim hat.

The risk of rays

"Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) rays that heat up your skin, cooking the collagen and elastin," explains Beverly Hills dermatologist Harold Lancer.

UVB rays (think B for burn) are short in length and hit the skin's surface, resulting in redness and burning. Contrary to popular belief, sunburns alone aren't the cause of skin damage; they're an immediate indication that you're hurting yourself -- and a warning to get out of the sun.

UVA rays (think A for aging) are long and penetrate deep into the skin, damaging cells and producing wrinkles, uneven skin tone, dryness and other signs of aging.

What you can do about

Uneven Skin -- Tone Pigment making cells go haywire, resulting in spots.

Solutions: Intense pulsed light (IPL), chemical peels, exfoliants and lasers.

Redness UV exposure causes broken capillaries and may lead to rosacea.

Solutions: Lasers and mineral makeup.

Fine lines and wrinkles Damage to collagen and elastin makes skin sag and crease.

Solutions: IPL, radio frequency, plasma skin resurfacing, Fraxel lasers and vitamin A.

Big pores Collagen loss enlarges pores.

Solutions: Exfoliants, Fraxel and vitamin A.

Thick skin The body tries to protect itself, so skin ends up leathery, "like beef jerky," says Lancer.

Solutions: Exfoliants and chemical peels.

Dullness -- Damaged skin is drier and flakier.

Solutions: Exfoliants, vitamin A and antioxidants.

Seven Ways to Save Face

Chemical Peels use acids to remove dry, dull skin and even out tone and reduce pore size, says New York City dermatologist Dennis Gross. Cost: $200 or more per treatment; monthly sessions.

Our Experience: Spots are lighter but still visible. Pores look tighter; skin glows.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) gets rid of dark spots and early wrinkling, says N.Y.C. Dermatologist Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas. Cost: $500 or more per treatment; 5--6 sessions.

Our Experience: IPL feels like static electricity on skin, which looked noticeably firmer.

Radio Frequency (Thermage, Refirme St) tightens skin to correct sagging, says N.Y.C. dermatologist Neil Sadick. Cost: $750--$2,000 per treatment; 1--5 sessions.

Our Experience: Skin feels hot during treatment and may be sensitive afterward, but there's no redness. We noticed significant tightening and lifting.

Plasma Skin Resurfacing (PSR), which uses gas to heat up skin, can smooth wrinkles and lighten red and brown spots. Cost: $1,500 per treatment; 1--3 sessions.

Our Experience: Treated areas burn and feel raw for up to two weeks, then skin peels off. Results vary, and there is a risk of discoloration (dark or light patches).

V Beam Lasers target blood vessels and work best to reduce redness, says Alexiades. Cost: $600 and up per treatment; 1-5 sessions.

Our Experience: Great for broken capillaries; redness returns with sun exposure.

Q-Switched Lasers focus on darker pigment and can erase brown spots, says Alexiades. Cost: $300--

$1,000, depending on the size of the area treated; 1--2 sessions.

Our Experience: Spots darken for a week (and look burned), but then scabs fall off, leaving no trace; discoloration reappears if you don't wear sunscreen.

Fraxel Lasers heat the lower layer of the skin to help generate new collagen and reduce pigment production. "Skin is smoother, less wide-pored and more even in tone," says Sadick. Cost: $800--$1,500 per treatment; 3--5 sessions.

Our Experience: Skin burns, swells and may peel; results can vary and there may be discoloration.

Keep in mind: The effects of these in-office treatments last longer for some people than others. Length varies depending on the severity of your skin damage and your lifestyle (how well you protect your skin from the sun).

How to treat your skin at home

Sun damage speeds up the aging process. Exfoliants and skin-repair creams can slow the clock. Scrubs, exfoliant pads like Aveeno's, and mild chemical peels help get rid of dull, flaky skin (a normal sign of aging that appears greatly magnified after UV exposure) and "improves the way skin looks tremendously," says Lancer.

Vitamin A creams quicken cell turnover and can stimulate collagen and hyaluronic-acid production so skin is plumper and more moist. And new creams like Remergent DNA Repair Formula ($125; remergentskin.com) may even help prevent skin cancer. "Enzymes in the serum cut out damaged DNA," says Alexiades, who also recommends products with vitamin C, which brightens skin by eliminating brown spots.

Prevent future damage

Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen

Look for a block that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, recommends Neil Sadick: New ingredients like Mexoryl and Helioplex (found in Neutrogena sunscreen) offer longer-lasting UVA protection.

Mineral Makeup

Minerals like titanium dioxide and zinc create a sheer physical block against the sun. Minerals also reflect light, so face gets less red and appears more radiant, says Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas.

Antioxidants

For extra protection, apply an antioxidant serum before sunscreen. "Antioxidants can prevent and reverse sun damage," says Alexiades. Vitamin C, idebenone and green tea are among the most effective and proven to shield skin from harmful rays.

And don't even consider:

Slacking off on sunscreen. Apply it all the way to your hairline or you'll end up with a ring of damage (and darker skin) around your face.

Getting into a tanning bed. True, beds have less UVB, reducing burning. But you can't escape UVA damage. "It's like slow-roasting," says Harold Lancer.

Believing you're safe in the shade. UVA light reflects, leaving you susceptible to wrinkle-causing damage, even in a not-so-sunny spot.

Flying naked. Plane windows don't filter out UVA. At high altitudes, the sun's rays are three times stronger than on the ground. Wear sunblock. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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