The winter is a great time to re-focus your attention on caring for your skin and learn how to heal any damage from the summer months. Once identified, it is possible to repair sun-damaged skin and reverse aging—but only to an extent. That is why it's still best not to rely on products to save you later in life. Prevention is the only surefire way to make sure you don't experience the skin disorders and photoaging caused by the light you're exposed to on a daily basis.

What Does "Sun-Damaged Skin" Mean?

Sun damage manifests as sunburns or tans. Yes, even a tan is damage. These are both signs that your skin is getting too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Acute sunburns are painful, and once the inflammation and redness resolve, your skin may blister and peel. These effects are unfortunate but short-lived. The real danger of such burns is how they accumulate over your lifetime and contribute to a number of skin problems down the road.

Chronically sun-damaged skin often manifests as age spots, discoloration, fine lines and wrinkles, and loose, crepy skin. These are all the result of incremental exposure to UV radiation, which over time, breaks down collagen, elastin, and other skin structures responsible for providing strength and support to our skin. With the loss of these structures, the skin appears saggy and wrinkly.

Are There Other Signs to Look For?

In addition to wrinkles and the like, there are a few other signs of sun-damaged skin to consider. UV radiation stimulates melanocytes to produce more pigment, leading to sunspots and mottled pigmentation. Freckles are commonly seen in fair-skinned individuals, and although they are mostly inherited, freckles do darken with repeated sun exposure, which is a sign of sun damage. Broken blood vessels on the skin can be another sign of chronic UV exposure.

All the signs discussed so far should be enough to get you interested in detection, repair, and prevention of sun-damaged skin. But in case you needed another reason, there's also the single biggest danger of unchecked UV exposure: skin cancer, a common disease that can put your health and life in danger.

How Do Doctors Identify Sun Damage?

Although Dermatologists rely mostly on their rigorous medical training and in-depth clinical testing to identify skin damage, there are tools available to demonstrate the extent of sun damage on the skin. As seen commonly on social media, UV photography or light scopes can be used to reveal sun damage. A special UV light is shone on the subject and is either absorbed by sun-damaged skin or reflected back at the viewer. The resulting image accentuates variations in color—evidence of damage not visible to the naked eye.

Can You Repair Sun-Damaged Skin?

Put simply, the extent to which you can repair sun-damaged skin depends on the amount of cumulative damage. The more damage done, the harder it will be to get your skin back to full health.

There are topical products, such as retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids, that can remove superficial sun-damaged cells. Some skin recovery systems with peptides, antioxidants, and moisturizing agents have been clinically shown to repair the skin barrier and improve fine lines, hyperpigmentation, and superficial signs of aging.

For more advanced sun damage, your board-certified Dermatologist may be able to offer in-office or prescription treatments to remove these damaged cells to prevent skin cancer.

Of course, sun damage is better prevented than treated. To minimize your risk, you should use a daily broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. EltaMD, for example, has a range of sunscreen for various skin types that will, when used early and often, significantly cut down your risk of skin cancer and keep your skin looking young and healthy for as long as possible.


  • Dr. Jenny Liu (

    Dr. Jenny Liu is a board-certified Dermatologist and an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Her blog,, combines her professional and personal passions—dermatology and medicine, medical education, skin care, fashion, and motherhood.

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