Can you “heal” the effects of sun damage from the past?

Hello Doctor, I am currently in my early 30’s an practice very safe sun protection. Organic and natural high spf, hat, cover up, always under an umbrella, the works! I even get teased that I come back one shade lighter after all of our beach holidays! Unfortunately, this was not always the case. I grew up in New York and I’m sure like many of people, I spent lots of time outdoors playing sports, bike riding around town, hanging with friends at the beach etc. Basically I would be outside all day until night usually just sticking on sunscreen if I remembered. I have light brown/very dark blonde hair, blue eyes and skin that naturally tans quite easily and no moles just several freckles on my body. I really can’t remember a bad burn in my life, (maybe some redness at some point) but certainly not one that peeled like many of my friends experienced. Looking back, I wish my parents, or myself, was stricter on sun protection because I now find I am showing some signs of damage like lines on my forehead and some minor freckles/pigment on my cheekbones. My mom used to say that since I didn’t burn I didn’t need to worry! Things have certainly changed! Luckily, around the age of 17 I became very strict and went into overdrive of no sun! I look back at my overly tanned self and certainly wish I could go back and slather myself up with cream, but since I can’t I want to get your opinion, what do you recommend to do in order to heal the damage done nearly 15 years ago and is there anything I can do going forward? How long after sun damage does it usually show up? Since it’s Been over a decade since my “sun worshipping” type days, will the damage start to slow? I know to check for skin cancer but after a certain amount of time will the skin be healed enough to that of someone who wasn’t always in the sun or is the damage now done for good? Kindest regards, Victoria

This is a good question. The answer is that much of sun damage CAN be undone, but it takes a little time and effort. The older you are when you start, the more effort it takes. Makes sense though.

Here’s a good sequence to think about addressing this in!


  • Stop going in the sun unprotected!  I know this sounds really redundant, but you wouldn’t believe how many patients we see who want to repair… but without changing any of their bad habits. It’s like trying to lose weight without exercising and changing what you eat. It doesn’t work.
  • Hats. Really take seriously hats always and wide brim hats for most of that.
  • Clothing. Driving gloves, surfer shirts for swimming, long sleeves, and keep a scarf or something in the car to cover your left arm when needed, a pair of thin tights when snorkeling, etc.
  • Sunscreen. Consider the new ISDIN sunscreen that also has DNA repair enzymes. Look for high zinc 10-20% for regular use. Double sunscreen for intense sun, and use water resistant when in the water.

Superficial Repair:

These repair the outer layer of skin and over time possibly some of the higher part of the deeper layer (dermis).  You’ll need a good derm center for these or an experienced aesthetician. You gotta be out of the sun to do these.

Deeper Repair:

These really need to be done by experts in expert centers, because you will be much less likely to have a complication. Complications of these can lead to scarring, infections, and pigment problem all of which may be permanent.

  • Deeper Erbium laser – heals much like a CO2
  • Carbon Dioxide laser (CO2) – goes the deepest and you should continue to see improvements up to about 5 treatments. After that, ask your doctor about a maintenance schedule. Our office does a 1/2 treatments once every 1-2 years for patients.
  • Deep TCA peels. Can be excellent if your provider is very experienced.
  • Deep phenol peels. Not recommended anymore due the odd texture and color after these peels.

Hope this helps,

Dr. I

Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

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Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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