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 now. *sighs*
Wrinkles, sun spots, dull and rough skin, sagginess… these are just some of the “presents” the sun’s kiss has left on your skin. Now, you want to return them. ASAP!
I have good news and bad news for you:
Bad news first: there’s no quick fix to reverse the premature signs of aging.
Good news: there are lots of ways you can fight wrinkles and dark spots these days. You just need the right allies. But, where to find them?
I’ve got you covered. Here are the best skincare products for sun-damaged skin:
1. Retinol: Fights Wrinkles, Sagginess, And Dark Spots
According to dermatologists, retinol is the gold standard for antiaging. Retinol (just like all the other forms of vitamin A) is one of the few ingredients that can reverse – not just prevent – wrinkles. It works just as well for dark spots too. Here’s how:
- It increases cellular turnover (the skin’s natural exfoliating process)
- It fights free radicals, (one of the main causes of aging)
- It boosts the production of collagen (the protein that keeps skin firm)
There are a few:
- Sun-sensitivity: retinol makes skin more prone to sun damage (ironic, isn’t it?). Use it at night only.
- Irritation: if you’ve never used retinol before, it may irritate your skin. To avoid that, start with a small concentration once or twice a week and, as your skin is getting used to it, gradually increase concentration and frequency.
The more you use retinol, the faster it’ll work. If you’re a retinol pro, you may switch to a 1% concentration now. If not, be patient. I know you want your flawless skin back, but rushing into a retinol treatment can make your skin look way worse, not better.
Best Products With Retinol:
- Paula’s Choice Skincare Clinical 1% Retinol Treatment ($56.00/£53.00): available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice
- SkinMedica Retinol Complex 1.0 ($93.00): available at Dermstore and SkincareRX.
- The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion (£8.00): available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
Related: What Strength Of Retinol Should You Use?
2. Glycolic Acid: Fights Dull Skin, Discolourations, And Sagginess
Glycolic acid belongs to the Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) family, a group of exfoliants. Other notable members of the family are lactic acid and malic acid. Glycolic acid beats them all by far when it comes to treating sun damage. Here’s why:
- It dissolves the glue that holds skin cells together, helping dark spots fade faster, wrinkles look smaller and skin glow
- It boosts collagen production, keeping skin firm.
Same as retinol:
- Sun-sensitivity: anything that exfoliates the skin thins it, making it more prone to sun damage. Use it at night.
- Irritations: using it too much, too often can irritate skin. Start with a small dose twice a week and work your way up gradually.
Don’t use 20% or higher glycolic acid peels at home. Those are for professional use only! Without proper supervision, they can destroy your skin.
Best Products With Glycolic Acid:
- Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00/£76.00): available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
- Paula’s Choice Skincare Resist Weekly Resurfacing Treatment with 10% Alpha Hydroxy Acid ($35.00/£34.00): available at Feel Unique and Paula’s Choice
- The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution ($6.80): available at Beauty Bay and Cult Beauty
Related: The Complete Guide To Glycolic Acid: What It Is, What It Does & How To Use It
3. Hydroquinone: Fights Dark Spots
Hydroquinone is to dark spots what retinol is to wrinkles: their worst enemy. 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 (it kills the cells that produce melanin).
- Irritations: it’ quite harsh so it can irritate skin, especially if it’s sensitive. To avoid this, use it in 4 months cycles (ie. 4 months hydroquinone, 4 months azelaic acid, then back to hydroquinone).
- Ochronosis: it’s rare but it can turn skin a bluish black.
P.S. The rumours that hydroquinone is carcinogenic are false (phew!).
Best Products With Hydroquinone:
- Alpha Skincare Dual Action Skin Lightener ($10.99): available at Dermstore and Ulta
- Paula’s Choice Resist Pure Radiance Skin Brightening Treatment ($34.00/£34.00): available atDermstore, Look Fantastic and Paula’s Choice
Related: 7 Ways To Treat HyperpigmentationRetinol, glycolic acid, hydroquinone, vit C & niacinamide: the superheroes that fight sun damage
4. Vitamin C: Treats Dullness, Sagginess, And Dark Spots
Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants out there. It comes 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 by boosting the production of collagen.
- Keep new wrinkles at bay by fighting free radicals.
- When used with vitamin E, enhance sunscreen protection.
FYI, 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.[/su_note]
- Sun sensitivity: yep, like all the best antiaging superstars, it makes skin more susceptible to sun damage. Use it with sunscreen only.*
- Irritations: it can irritate skin, especially it’s sensitive.
*I usually recommend you apply anything that increases sun sensitivity at night. But, vitamin C boosts the protection of your sunscreen so it makes sense to use it in the morning.
Best Products With Vitamin C:
- Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum ($80.00): available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
- Paula’s Choice Skincare Resist C15 Super Booster ($48.00/£45.00): available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice
- SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($166.00): available at Dermstore and Skin Store.
Related: Types Of Vitamin C Used In Skincare
5. Niacinamide: Treats Dark Spots, Dullness, And Sagginess
The underdog of the antiaging world, niacinamide is a stable form of vitamin B3. It’s super versatile, too. According to a 2006 study, it can do all this:
- It improves skin’s elasticity.
- It brightens skin and reduces sallowness (yellowing).
- It fades dark spots.
- It reduces the appearances of wrinkles and fine lines.
Bonus points: niacinamide is a lot gentler than all the other ingredients above put together. It won’t irritate your skin or pull any other tricks. Yay!
Best Products With Niacinamide:
- CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($15.99): available at Dermstore, iHerb, Ulta and Walmart
- Nia24 Skin Strengthening Complex ($93.00): available at Dermstore and Skin Store.
- Paula’s Choice Resist 10% Niacinamide Booster ($42.00): available at Dermstore, Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice
Related: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Niacinamide
6. Sunscreen: Prevents Damage From Returning
None of the steps above will help you if you don’t wear sunscreen every single day. Think about it. It’s UV rays that are giving you those deep wrinkles, unsightly sun spots and sagging skin. Even if you manage to fix them, how long will it be before they come back if you don’t address the cause?
UV rays are sneaky. UVA, the main culprit for premature aging, are around from the time the sun comes up to the time it goes down. They can penetrate through the darkest of clouds and be reflected on snow, too. Don’t let them get you. Wear your sunscreen 365/7.
My fave sunscreens have zinc oxide, a white mineral that can literally save your skin:
- It protects – on its own – from the entire UV range
- It’s super gentle – it very rarely causes irritations
PRO TIP: Zinc oxide can leave a white cast behind. If you don’t fancy the pale look, go for a tinted sunscreen.
Best Products With Zinc Oxide:
- Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($34.00):available at Sephora
- EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47 ($25.00): available at Dermstore and Walmart
- Niod Survival 30 (£25.00): available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty, Feel Unique and Net-A-Porter
Related: Why Zinc Oxide Is The Best Sunscreen Ingredient Ever
Confused about how these ingredients fit into your skincare routine? Click the image below to subscribe to my newsletter and download the “Best Skincare Routine For Sun-Damaged Skin” cheatsheet and find out:
Best Skincare Routine For Sun Damaged Skin
Don't know how to best actives for sun-damaged skin fit in your skincare routine? Get the cheatsheet and find out!
What are your favourite products to treat sun-damaged skin? Share them in the comments below.