Spending time in the sun is inevitable. Between going to family sporting events, relaxing at the beach, and hiking on weekend mornings, you're bound to get a little sun exposure. Or, maybe you have a job that requires long hours outdoors. All things considered, there's no escaping life in the sun—and cumulative sun exposure often adds up to sun damage. That might leave you wondering: Can you reverse sun damage on your skin, or is it permanent?

Sun exposure usually presents itself in the form of a tan or sunburn. Your skin will eventually return to its usual color, but tans and burns are actually signs of sun-damaged skin. Over time, they can lead to premature signs of aging and skin cancer, including melanoma. Luckily, it's never too late to start protecting and caring for your skin.

What Is Sun Damage?

Yale Medicine explains that sun damage, also known as photoaging, occurs when unprotected skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, causing DNA changes to skin cells. "Unprotected" means sunlight reaches your bare skin—without broad-spectrum sunscreen or sun-protective clothing.

Another cause of sun damage is indoor tanning. Tanning beds damage your skin cells, speed up photoaging, and increase the risk of skin cancer, reports the Skin Cancer Foundation.

The visible signs of sun-damaged skin, according to Yale Medicine, include:

  • Wrinkles and fine lines

  • Decreased elasticity

  • Hyperpigmentation (including age spots, liver spots, and freckles)

  • Redness

  • Broken capillaries

  • Roughened texture

Can You Reverse Sun Damage?

Sun damage that changes skin cell DNA is not reversible and can't be repaired with skin care products, sun protection, or cosmetic procedures. There are a few topical cosmetic products that claim to promote skin DNA repair, but more research is needed to back up these claims.

For now, the best way to care for sun-damaged skin is to focus on repairing the skin barrier, reducing the visible signs of photoaging, and preventing further damage with proper sun protection. Here's how to do that.

1. Repair a Damaged Skin Barrier

The first step to getting back on track is repairing skin barrier damage. The skin barrier is like the foundation of a house—without it, skin can't do its job of keeping invaders out. Its function is to protect against external threats and keep water in. When the skin barrier is damaged, it can't do either. The result is dull-looking, compromised skin that is vulnerable to allergens, pollutants, and dehydration.

Solar radiation has been shown to disrupt skin barrier function. It not only causes damage but also weakens the skin's ability to protect itself.

Repairing skin barrier damage can be done with topical skin care products formulated with the right ingredients. The EltaMD Skin Recovery System is powered by a blend of amino acids that work together to help skin heal, boost skin immunity, and strengthen the skin barrier from within.

2. Reduce the Signs of Aging

Large amounts of sun exposure cause oxidative stress, a process where natural damage to cells is sped up, causing faster, more visible photoaging and an increased risk of skin cancer.

Over time, your skin naturally becomes less elastic and less firm, but oxidative stress causes this to happen prematurely. As a result, your skin may develop wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots and appear dry and dull.

Antioxidants are the skin care weapon against cell damage. Antioxidants like vitamin C and niacinamide can help prevent damage and diminish signs like dark spots. Other skin care ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, keep skin hydrated, which helps support skin barrier function.

Cosmetic procedures can also help improve the signs of aging, but they can't undo them. Treatments like fillers and injectables fill in fine lines, wrinkles, and hollow areas. Laser therapy can also reduce the visibility of hyperpigmentation and sunspots. Regular facials may give skin a noticeable glow, making skin appear more youthful and radiant.

3. Protect Skin From Further Sun Damage

So, can you reverse sun damage? You can't turn back the clock and undo any sun damage you experienced in the past, but you can prevent it from happening again. Moving forward, you'll need to properly protect your skin against sun exposure.

In addition to wearing sun-protective clothing and accessories like hats and sunglasses, you should apply sunscreen regularly. Choose a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum coverage with SPF 30 or higher, like the EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, as an everyday source of sun protection.

Don't forget to seek shade where possible and see your board-certified Dermatologist regularly for annual checkups.

Author

  • Lacey is a Southern California-based freelance writer who combines her passions—fitness, health, and a vegan lifestyle—with her work to help readers feel and be their best. Her work has been featured in Healthline, Livestrong, Verywell Fit, Eat This Not That, KinderBeauty, and more.