The weathered-skin look that was once a given for outdoor enthusiasts is now preventable and, to some extent, reversible. The latest lotions and procedures can help neutralize sun damage and minimize its effects. Even with evolving treatments and technologies, prevention is the first line of defense.
For those of us who grew up in the time before applying sunscreen was as common as brushing our teeth, each look in the mirror yields new freckles, sunspots and fine lines. We fully support wearing experience with pride—like race medals without the bulk—but there are viable reparative options available so you can put your best face forward.
Keep in mind that sun damage isn’t just about vanity—skin cancer can strike at any age. The good news is that with regular visits to your dermatologist, it’s possible to develop a plan to catch problem areas before they become an issue both inside and out. Here are some options to discuss during your next appointment.
During microdermabrasion, the top layer of skin is exfoliated using a hand-held device that blasts tiny crystal particles, then suctions them off along with dead skin. It feels scratchy as it passes over your skin—often described as the sensation of a cat’s tongue.
Dr. Karen Nern, a board-certiﬁed dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon with Vail and Aspen Dermatology in Colorado recommends this as a way to brighten skin. According to the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, it can help treat sun damage and reduce the appearance of fine lines, light scarring and hyperpigmentation, as well as stimulate collagen production with repeated treatments.
For ages: 20+
Recovery time: Zero
Cost: $75–$150 per session
Related: A Runner’s Guide To Sun Protection
This treatment uses alphahydroxy acid (AHA), phenol or trichloroacetic acid (TCA) to remove the damaged outer layers of skin. Peels are tailored to be light, medium or deep depending upon desired results and can help improve texture, remove sun damage and brown spots as well as diminish scars and wrinkles.
Recovery time depends upon the strength of the peel. Patients may experience a stinging sensation or the feeling that their skin is hot while the peel is activating. Afterward skin gets tight and tender, similar to the sensation of having a sunburn, before sloughing off.
For ages: 30+
Recovery time: Zero for AHA; 3–4 days for phenol; 1 week for TCA
INTENSE PULSE LIGHT (IPL)
Light ranging from 400 to 700 nanometers targets brown spots and red capillaries in the skin, helping with sun damage and redness from rosacea. IPL may also slightly stimulate collagen and help reduce the appearance of ﬁne lines. Runners should consider this as an off-season procedure, as Nern advises patients to stay out of the sun for four weeks prior to treatment and one week afterward.
A cooling gel is applied to the skin prior to treatment, which includes pulses of light to targeted areas using a smooth wand—it feels a bit like mild rubber band snaps. After treatment, skin may feel swollen or hot. Skin appearance will improve gradually over time.
For ages: 30+
Recovery time: Zero, although dark spots may darken and slough off over a few days
Also known by popular brand name Fraxel Laser Systems, this treatment is “the gold standard for improving skin,” according to Nern. Small areas of the skin receive laser light pulses to create a wound-healing response that stimulates collagen production, resulting in healthier, smoother skin. Nern says,
“This is the most aggressive treatment I’ll use on active, outdoor athletes. I recommend it to my patients who want to improve their skin and remove precancerous lesions.”
Prior to the procedure, a powerful numbing cream is applied to skin. During treatment, a smooth wand is moved over the skin as it emanates pulses of light tailored to each patient’s needs. Skin will feel hot and swollen during the session and after. Some patients report feeling tired with no desire to exercise for a day or two, and it will take five to seven days for skin to slough and smooth, during which time direct sun should be avoided. Additional improvements occur over time as skin continues to heal and regenerate.
For ages: 40+
Recovery time: From five days to one month