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Skin Science

How to improve the look of dark spots: 4 Easy ways from head to toe

Woman helping to reduce the risk of premature sun damage wearing a shawl smiles on the beach.
Christina Heiser
Christina Heiser August, 10, 2020

Skincare-obsessed, fitness enthusiast, cat lover 

There are some truly awesome things about getting older — in addition to growing professionally, you tend to become more confident in yourself and stop worrying so much about what other people think.

But one aspect of aging you may not be so jazzed about is its effect on your skin. While skin aging is a natural part of life, spending prolonged periods of time in the sun without adequate protection can damage your body's skin, speeding up common signs of aging like wrinkles and sun spots in the process. This is known as photoaging.

Luckily, there are easy steps you can take to reap the benefits of getting older while still keeping your complexion looking youthful! Here's what you need to know to help improve the look of sun damaged skin.

What causes photoaging?

Your skin is exposed to three types of ultraviolet (UV) light whenever you're outdoors. Two kinds in particular — UVA and UVB rays — can affect your skin's health. While you can blame UVB rays for sunburns, UVA rays are more responsible for photoaging, since they penetrate your dermis (the middle layer of your skin) and damage its collagen, a fiber that supports the structure of your skin. When you repeatedly expose your skin to UVA rays, your dermis has trouble rebuilding collagen correctly and tends to form wrinkles over time.

Sun spots (also known as age spots) are generally caused by photodamage. When your unprotected skin is exposed to the sun, it increases its production of melanin, a dark pigment, in an effort to protect itself. Sun spots most commonly appear on the face, upper back, arms and the backs of hands — pretty much any area that gets a lot of sun exposure.

4 Ways to help improve the look of sun-damaged skin

Smiling woman in hat is applying sunscreen on her face.Thinking about spending the next sunny day indoors? There's no need to avoid the sunshine! You can reduce your risk of photodamage and keep your youthful glow for years to come by following these four easy tips.

1. Make sun protection your top priority

The most important thing you can do to help prevent sun damaged skin is to wear sunscreen — every single day. Slather on a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to any exposed areas before heading outside, and remember to reapply every two hours!

Sun protection goes beyond applying SPF, though. You should also seek shade during the sun's peak hours — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — and cover your skin in a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses and long sleeves when you're outside.

2. Add retinoids to your skincare routine

Retinoids are often seen as the gold standard of anti-aging treatments, and for good reason! Research shows that certain retinoids are effective at improving mild to moderate photodamage when used topically. Derived from vitamin A, these compounds increase cell turnover to help improve the appearance of wrinkles.

Keep in mind that retinoids can be quite strong, so it's best to start slowly! Only use them a couple of nights a week, or as dermatologist recommended to minimize the possibility of irritation.

3. Lean on vitamin C

Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, helping to shield your skin from damaging free radicals in the environment. Studies show that supplementing your vitamin C may increase the resistance of skin to UV exposure. So, load your plate with yummy foods high in vitamin C! Broccoli, spinach, strawberries and oranges are all great sources.

You can also reduce the appearance of premature aging from sun damage by using serums and other skincare products formulated with vitamin C.

4. Maintain your youth from the inside out

Vitamin C isn't the only antioxidant that helps protect against free radicals! Vitamin E (found in vegetable oils, almonds and sunflower seeds), lycopene (found in tomatoes), green tea polyphenols and beta carotene (found in carrots and sweet potatoes) may also protect against free radical damage.

Even the flavonols in cocoa contain beneficial antioxidants — yes, dark chocolate can be good for your skin! In addition to all these scrumptious foods, don't forget to drink plenty of water to keep the skin all over your body hydrated and happy.

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