Preventing and Treating Photodamage

Written by Leslie Robbins, MPAS, PA-C, Certified Physician Assistant on October 28, 2016 No Comments


Photodamage, sometimes referred to as photo-aging or sun damage, is a broad term used to describe changes to the skin caused by chronic exposure to ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. Photodamage can stem from natural UV radiation exposure from the sun or the use of synthetic UV light (i.e. tanning beds).

Over time, excessive UV exposure causes molecular and genetic changes in the skin that manifest in a variety of ways including:

  • Lines and wrinkles
  • Pigmentation changes
  • Dark or discolored spots (age spots)
  • Appearance of blood vessels (telangiectasia)
  • Freckles
  • Uneven skin tone
  • Thinning of the skin
  • Actinic Keratosis (precancerous spots that are rough and scaly in appearance)
  • Skin cancers

Where Does Photodamage Occur?

Sun damage most commonly occurs on body areas that are most prone to UV exposure, including the face, neck, upper chest (décolletage), arms, hands, and legs. The buttocks, genital area, and upper arms are typically least affected by photodamage.

Can Photodamage Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, photodamage to the skin is hard to completely prevent, even for individuals who do not intentionally tan. Most sun damage occurs from years of regular sun exposure. In fact, most people will rack up 25% of their lifetime UV exposure by the end of their teenage years.

There are several practical ways to limit your exposure of UV radiation (printable PDF tips):

  1. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF daily, even if you don’t expect to be outside. Exposure to harmful UV rays often occurs unexpectedly, like while in a vehicle or when it’s cloudy.
  2. Wear a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sun proof clothing while outside.
  3. Avoid all forms of tanning. If a tanned look is what you are going for, opt for spray-on or other topical self-tanning products.
  4. Avoid going outside during peak UV hours (typically between 10AM-2PM).

Is It Possible To Reverse Photoaging?

While there is no way to completely reverse photoaging, there are several treatment options that can rejuvenate the skin (minimizing the cosmetic effects of sun damage). Before considering any treatment, individuals with moderate to severe sun damage should be examined by a dermatologist to ensure their safety.

Here are effective options to treat different severity levels of photoaging:

Light (Early) Photoaging

For individuals with early signs of photo aging (typically in their early 20’s), topical treatments containing retinoids or retinols, vitamin C, and alpha hydroxyl acid may be powerful enough to provide noticeable results.

Moderate Photoaging

Patients with more moderate sun damage that is unresponsive to topical products can opt for more intensive cosmetic procedures including chemical peels, Fraxel laser resurfacing, or microdermabrasion. Fine lines and wrinkles can also be treated using Botox, Voluma, Juvederm, or other dermal fillers. These sophisticated treatments typically yield excellent results.

Severe Photoaging

Patients with severe facial photo-aging may benefit most from a facelift, neck lift, brow lift, or alternate plastic surgery procedure. Surgical intervention may be the only way to counteract deep wrinkles, sagging skin, and an extreme loss of skin elasticity.

To learn more about photo-aging treatments, please contact us today.


Leslie Robbins, MPAS, PA-C

Leslie Robbins, MPAS, PA-C, earned her Masters in Physician Assistant Studies from the Texas Tech University Health Science Center in Midland. She specializes in Dermatology and has had extensive experience with surgical procedures since earning her Masters. Leslie is board certified by the National Commission of Certification of PAs and is licensed by the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners.

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