Remember the old days, when we used to spend entire summers in the sun without sunscreen, or slathered our bodies in oil to top up our tans? Little did we know then there would be hell to pay afterwards. *sighs*
Wrinkles, sun spots, dull and rough skin, sagginess… these are just some of the unwanted “presents” unprotected sun exposure has left on our skin. And now, we want to get rid of them. The sooner, the better!
While there is no quick fix to reverse these premature signs of ageing, there are lots of ways we can fight them these days. We just need creams and serums with the right ingredients.
So, here they are, my favourite ingredients and best skincare products for sun-damaged skin:
1. Retinol: Fights Wrinkles, Sagginess, And Dark Spots
According to dermatologists, retinol is the gold standard of antiageing. That’s because it is one of the few ingredients that can reverse its premature signs. It does so in several different ways:
- It reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots by increasing cell turnover.
- It has antioxidant properties, destroying the free radicals that cause premature ageing.
- It keeps skin firm and elastic by boosting the production of collagen.
The catch? If you’ve never used retinol before, you may experience some irritation until your skin has got used to it. To avoid that, start by applying a retinol serum or cream only once or twice a week, and increase frequency gradually.
You should also start with a small concentration. To treat sun-damaged skin, though, I recommend you switch to a 1% concentration as soon as your skin allows you to do so. And always use it at night (sunlight can deactivate retinol).
Best Products With Retinol
Paula’s Choice Skincare Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment ($55.00)
In addition to 1% retinol, it also contains antioxidant vitamin c, and a bunch of soothing ingredients, to help you reap its anti-ageing benefits without the side effects. It’s available at Paula’s Choice.
SkinMedica Retinol Complex 1.0 ($90.00)
One of the most powerful retinol products on the market, this treatment also contains a bunch of antioxidants that can fight free radicals, and emollients that moisturize skin. It also contains a generous amount of niacinamide, another ingredient that, as we’ll soon see, can help treat sun.damaged skin. It’s available at Derm Store.
Murad Time Release Retinol Concentrate for Deep Wrinkles ($65.00)
I left this for last because it is less potent than the other two treatments, but a much better and gentler option for sensitive skin. Why? Here, retinol is time-released. That means that, rather than hitting your skin all at once, retinol is gradually released over a period of several hours. So, you’re getting the benefits without the side effects. You can check out my full review here and buy it at Sephora.
2. Glycolic Acid: Fights Dull Skin, Discolourations, And Sagginess
Glycolic acid belongs to the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) family, a group of substances that has exfoliating properties. Other AHAs include lactic acid and malic acid. But glycolic acid is by far the best for sun-damaged skin. Here’s why:
- It treat dullness and dark spots by dissolving the glue that holds superficial skin cells together, allowing them to slough off and reveal the newer, brighter, and even-toned skin underneath.
- It helps keep skin elastic and firm by stimulating the production of collagen.
Glycolic acid can be irritating in high concentrations (those that work best to treat sun-damaged skin), so the same precautions used with retinol apply here too. Start with using small concentrations once or twice a week, and increase both the dose and frequency gradually.
Because it removes layers of skin, glycolic acid can also make skin more susceptible to sun damage. So, either use it in the morning together with sunscreen, or at night (but only on days when you’re not already using retinol; they don’t work that well together).
Best Products With Glycolic Acid
Paula’s Choice Skincare Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% Alpha Hydroxy Acid ($35.00)
Infused with 10% glycolic acid, this exfoliant also contains a bunch of antioxidants that help keep wrinkles at bay, and soothing agents to calm down any potential irritation the active ingredient may cause. It’s available at Paula’s Choice.
MD Formulations Vit-A-Plus Illuminating Serum ($65.00)
This fragrance-free serum contains 15% AHAs and a dollop of retinol too. It’s a very powerful treatment that will likely cause problems for sensitive skin. But everyone else will see a big improvement in our their skin looks and feels. You can buy it Amazon.
3. Hydroquinone: Fights Dark Spots
Hydroquinone is to dark spots what retinol is to wrinkles: the gold standard to treat them. It works in two ways:
- It inhibits the activity of tyrosinase (the enzyme that controls the synthesis of melanin)
- It increases the cytotoxicity of melanocytes (cells that produce melanin).
Although the rumours that hydroquinone is carcinogenic are false (phew!), it can irritate sensitive skin, and very rarely ochronosis (a bluish black discoloration).
To reduce the risks of irritations, dermatologist recommend you use it in four months cycles. That means using a product with hydroquinone for four months, then switching to an alternative treatment (such as kojic acid or azelaic acid) for another four months, and so on.
Best Products With Hydroquinone
Peter Thomas Roth De-Spot Plus ($75.00)
In addition to 2% hydroquinone, this treatment also contains vitamin c, an antioxidant that also has skin-lightening properties. Its fragrance may cause irritations in super sensitive skin, but everyone else shouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s available at Amazon.
Paula’s Choice Skincare Resist Triple-Action Dark Spot Eraser 7% AHA Lotion ($25.00)
This multitasking product helps skin in three ways: hydroquinone treats dark spots; glycolic acid exfoliates; and a bunch of antioxidants fights wrinkles. The result is smoother, brighter, and younger-looking skin. You can buy a tube at Paula’s Choice.
4. Vitamin C: Treats Dullness, Sagginess, And Dark Spots
Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants used in skincare. It isn’t just one ingredient, but is available in many forms. Some are more powerful than others, but they all have similar benefits. They can:
- Brighten skin and reduce dark spots by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase.
- Maintain skin firm and elastic by boosting the production of collagen.
- Keep new wrinkles at bay by fighting free radicals.
- When used with vitamin E, enhance sunscreen protection.
Vitamins C and E work even better when used with ferulic acid, an antioxidant that fights three types of free radicals! The best products with vitamin c contain all three ingredients.
In high concentrations, vitamin c can be irritating, so again, use it sparingly at first and increase frequency gradually. It can also make skin more prone to sun damage, so don’t skip the sunscreen!
Best Products With Vitamin C
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment ($162.00)
The first product to contain the powerful combination of vitamins C + E and ferulic acid, it has since inspired many dupes. Still, the original is hard to beat (if you don’t mind the splurge, that is). It’s available at Derm Store.
Paula’s Choice Skincare Resist C15 Super Booster ($48.00)
If you do mind the splurge, you can opt for this much cheaper alternative. It gives you the same benefits at a fraction of the cost. Available at Paula’s Choice.
5. Niacinamide: Treats Dark Spots, Dullness, And Sagginess
A relatively new ingredient introduced by Olay, niacinamide is a stable form of vitamin B3. It’s also one of the most versatile ingredients used in skincare. Here’s what niacinamide can do according to a 2006 study:
- It improves skin’s elasticity.
- It brightens skin by reducing skin sallowness (yellowing).
- It reduces hyperpigmented spots.
- It reduces the appearances of wrinkles and fine lines.
Niacinamide is also gentler than all the other ingredients mentioned above. You don’t need to take any particular precautions with it.
Best Products With Niacinamide
Olay Pro-X Deep Wrinkle Treatment ($44.99)
In addition to niacinamide, this treatment also contains retinyl propionate, a gentler, but less effective, form of retinol. It is also infused with a bunch of antioxidants. You can buy it at Amazon.
Mary Kay TimeWise Even Complexion Essence ($35.00)
A powerful anti-ageing treatment, this cream contains niacinamide and vitamin c to fight wrinkles and dark spots. It is also infused with a bunch of antioxidants and undecylenoyl phenylalanine, another skin-lightening agent. It’s available at Amazon.
The Bottom Line
Retinol, glycolic acid, hydroquinone, vitamin c, and niacinamide are the best ways to treat sun damaged skin. They can’t erase all the damage (no topical product can do that yet), but, with regular use, they’ll make your skin look brighter, smoother, and younger.
What do you think are the best skincare products for sun-damaged skin? Are you using any of these?