Suffering from Sun Damage? Here's How to Reverse It

by Christopher Ehlers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday March 23, 2022
Originally published on March 22, 2022

It has been said that nothing is certain except for death and taxes. But there's something else that should be added to that list, something that causes a ton of problems for the vast majority of the population: sun damage.

And I'm not only talking about the most serious sun-related malady, skin cancer, but rather just the superficial consequences of sun exposure: wrinkles, pigmentation, discoloration, and those dreaded dark spots. Obviously, sunscreen is our best defense on that front, with most dermatologists recommending a generous amount of at least SPF 50, every two hours, whether you leave your house or not.

If you're not using sunscreen daily, it's in your best interest to start that immediately. But even for those of us who have been faithfully applying and reapplying for decades, sun damage can be a real pain. About two years ago, a small patch of melasma on my left cheek really began to get on my nerves, and so began my journey to try to get rid of it. As it turns out, it's not an easy task, and the best plan of attack is to combine in-office treatments like chemical peels and IPL Photofacials with a top-quality at-home routine. And, yes, lots and lots of sunscreen.

As the days get longer and the temperature starts creeping up, now is a good time to think about leveling up your skincare routine to help combat the hell that most of us put our skin through every summer. Here are the products that made a difference for me:

SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense

Ask a group of dermatologists about sun damage, and it's likely that the majority of them will start by singling out one product: Skinceuticals Discoloration Defense. This is a lightweight serum made for all skin types that is clinically proven to remove stubborn brown patches, as well as brighten the skin and minimize recurrence of discoloration. Combining tranexamic acid and kojic acid with niacinamide and HEPES — a gentle exfoliant — you'll begin seeing results in as early as two weeks. But as is the case with any topical treatment, keep in mind that you've got to be consistent and patient. $98.

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Vitamin-C Day Serum

Vitamin C should be a non-negotiable part of everyone's daily skin routine. Not only does it firm, brighten, and correct signs of photoaging (aka sun damage), but the antioxidants in Vitamin C also help the skin resist other terrors like pollution and environmental stressors. But Vitamin C is a notoriously complicated ingredient to stabilize due to the fact that it oxidizes so quickly, which means that the vast majority of topical Vitamin C isn't doing all that much on your skin. That's why Drunk Elephant revamped theirs, and this new version gets high marks for its extreme freshness and potency. $78.

Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Niacinamide Discoloration Treatment

While this product is relatively similar to the SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense, this expert formulation from Peter Thomas Roth goes the extra mile. Not only does it contain the same tranexamic and kojic acids, but it also contains pentapeptide, alpha arbutin, white mulberry root extract, squalene, and resveratrol, a mighty antioxidant. $88.

ISDIN Isdinceutics Melatonik

When we sleep at night, our skin resets and is more receptive to the products we slather on our face before bed, which makes it the ideal time to use a luxurious and splurgy product like this liquid gold from ISDIN. Not only does this oil-based serum hydrate, repair, and soften, but it combines melatonin with bakuchiol — a retinol alternative — and vitamin C to defend, firm, protect, and rejuvenate. $165.

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel

There is just nothing else quite like this OG at-home peel, which really put Dr. Gross on the map more than two decades ago. Dr. Gross, along with his wife, Carrie, were the first to offer a high-quality peel that you could safely and effectively perform at home, and as a result, it's been the bestselling at-home peel for 20 years. Not only does this powerhouse miracle product impart an instant glow, but you will continue to see progressive improvements with regular use. There are also three different strengths of the Alpha Beta Peel, so there's literally no excuse not to try this. I recommend playing around with how frequently you use this. Although the directions say daily, my skin likes it best when I use this once or twice a week. $88.

SkinCeuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector

This lightweight lotion is an effective alternative to the Discoloration Defense, and I had luck breaking up my melasma by using Discoloration Defense in the morning and Advanced Pigment Corrector in the evening. What makes this one special is that it's formulated with a low dose of salicylic acid, which gently exfoliates while a hydroquinone derivative and a plant-based antioxidant do the heavy lifting. $92.

ZIIP GX Series

There's no doubt about it, taking care of your skin is an investment, and there are all sorts of tools and devices out there with big price tags that promise big results. One that actually delivers is this nano and microcurrent device that syncs with your phone and provides on-demand facial treatments. Not only does it lift and sculpt your facial contours, but it carves out your jawline and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. And on the app, there's a target treatment for just about anything, including hyperpigmentation. You can stack treatments for an overall treatment, or you can just spend a few minutes targeting one area of concern. Be consistent and you'll be amazed by the results. $495.

Obagi Clinical Blue Brilliance Triple Acid Peel

Chemical peels are a vital part of reducing the appearance of sun damage and improving overall skin health. But in-office peels get expensive, and the majority of people can't shell out four figures for a year's worth of medical grade chemical peels. The Dr. Gross Alpha Beta Peel mentioned above is an affordable, daily (or semi-daily) option, but it's not going to cause any actual peeling. I suppose you could think of the Obagi peel as a step in between a daily exfoliating peel and a serious in-office peel. It's relatively gentle enough for home use, but it's intense enough that you shouldn't use one vial more often than every two weeks. You may or may not actually shed skin with this peel, but its triple acid composition will absolutely aid with fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. $145.

Dr. Dennis Gross DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro

I told you that fighting sun damage is a multi-pronged attack, right? Well, as it turns out, part of that attack involves regularly bathing your skin in LED lights that penetrate deep below the surface of the skin. There are a ton of devices like these on the market, but this one has been cleared by the FDA and promises to offer professional quality light therapy in just three minutes a night from the comfort of your own home. Trust me, I appreciate how gimmicky a product like this sounds, but there are cold, hard facts to back up the science, and this product works. In addition to reducing acne and boosting collagen production, red LED light reduces the appearance of sunspots. $435.