How can I can get rid of facial sun damage?
October 15, 2009 12:13 PM   Subscribe

If creams, microdermabrasion, and IPL don’t remove sun damage, what other options are there?

At 36, despite never having gotten a lot of sun, and a religious use of sunscreen for the past decade, I have a LOT of ugly sun damage on my face. I have as much as my 70-year-old mother does. I’ve never seen a woman younger than a senior citizen with my level of sun damage. I guess it comes with having the kind of thin, sensitive skin that accompanies blue eyes and red hair. I’ve been trying to get rid of the damage. First I tried various creams. They didn’t work at all. So last July I began monthly visits to a spa-like place for photofacials. These photofacial procedures take nearly two hours and involve a facial, microdermabrasion, and IPL, followed by a mud mask, all to the tune of new age-y whale music. The staff at the spa told me it would take at least six treatments to get rid of my sun damage.

I had my fourth photofacial last week and I see little to no difference between what I currently look like and my before pictures. The technicians are swearing up and down that it’s working and that I should come back for the last two treatments because “sometimes that when the treatments really start making a difference”, but of course I’m not at that willing to take their word for it given their vested interest, nor do I want to keep shelling out $150 plus tax a visit for treatments that seem to make very little difference at best.

Does anyone have any advice or tips for me?
posted by orange swan to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you talked to an actual dermatologist, preferably one with a practice that doesn't make its money pushing products?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:19 PM on October 15, 2009

I have never done it because I'm too much of a weenie, but over the course of many years I have had several dermatologists tell me that the Obagi system is the only thing that really works. If you start poking around online you'll find a number of people blogging their use of Obagi and it's pretty amazing, if you are brave enough to endure the redness and peeling in the beginning.
posted by HotToddy at 12:20 PM on October 15, 2009

I meant to mention, a couple of the derms who told me about Obagi did not sell it themselves.
posted by HotToddy at 12:21 PM on October 15, 2009


this is a good resource, though you have to be a member of Makeup Alley to access it. Basically, it says there are three methods of preventing and treating sun damage: retinoids, sunscreen, and antioxidants (particularly Vitamin C).

Make sure the sunscreen you're using is photostable and protects against UVA rays (SPF just measures the protection against UVB rays, but UVAs are the ones that cause wrinkles). This is my favorite sunscreen EVAR.

But seriously, ask at the Makeup Alley skin boards. They're obsessed with this stuff over there.
posted by granted at 12:49 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

The absolutely most far out treatment I have heard of is the dreaded phenol peel. And I do mean dreaded. I may have to suck it up and do one myself. The results are supposed to be worth the hell of the first couple of weeks. So use that as the distant end of the yardstick.
posted by adipocere at 1:03 PM on October 15, 2009

TCA peels are stronger than glycolic peels and weaker than Phenol peels. You'll look like you have a sunburn and then start peeling in a day or two. A series of them can produce amazing results - worked for me.
posted by Evangeline at 1:05 PM on October 15, 2009

What exactly do you mean by "ugly sun damage"? That's a vague marketing buzzword used to sell cosmetics, and it's not specific enough to be very helpful in this context. (If it's freckles, be warned: I may have to kick into "racism of the beauty industry" mode.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:10 PM on October 15, 2009

I have your coloring (but not the severity of the sun damage) and had great results with the obagi (it has hydroquinone, retin A, exfoliant, and sunscreen products), adding a vitamin c cream. I'd also recommend talking to a dermatologist rather than a spa to see if you're a good candidate for obagi or for finishing the photofacial course. You might also consider upping your sunscreen game (ask the derm for recs) and adding hats to minimize further damage. I'm single-handedly bringing back the cloche in these parts.
posted by *s at 1:39 PM on October 15, 2009

I have a nurse that does laser and IPL treatments in a med-spa. I had one IPL treatment and a small touch up and it was insanely effective. It was absolute torture to my skin and I can't imagine doing anything like microdermabrasion in conjunction with the treatment I received. I wonder if there isn't something more "clinical strength" you could try in the IPL department. Did any of your spots get much darker and kind of flake off? In comparison - I paid almost $300 for my one treatment and a touch up.
I have also heard great things about Obagi. Spendy - but effective. If you decide to do the phenol peel - come back and tell us all about it. I would love to but lack the guts.
posted by Wolfie at 1:51 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have you tried the simple regimen of an AHA product at night + a good sunscreen during the day? I too get monthly microdermabrasions and all the associated treatments at a spa (I've never had photofacials done, so I can't comment much on that); the aggressive exfoliation really helps with acne/scarring, but my facialist recommends an AHA product to "bleach out" scars and promote even skintone.
posted by wiretap at 3:49 PM on October 15, 2009

When I was your age* I found a good dermatologist. She recommended all products from NeoStrata. I was very surprised that all NeoStrata products are much less money than --say Lancome--and the effectiveness was very noticeable. Go to a dermatologist and get recommendations. You'll do better there than at the spa. :)

*I think taking care of your skin now is so important, so you do look to be 100 when you are in your 50's. A regular schedule of light peels combined with effective products will definitely get you on a good track. I recommend a female dermatologist too--in my experience male Drs just haven't been as on-board about ongoing skin care.
posted by naplesyellow at 5:19 PM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

typo! Meant to write so you DON'T look to be 100 when you are in your 50's.
posted by naplesyellow at 5:21 PM on October 15, 2009

Response by poster: I think my next step should be to go to a dermatologist and see what he/she recommends. And I'll cancel my November appointment with the spa place. I did buy a product containing retinol on my way home tonight so I can feel like I'm doing something in the meantime.
posted by orange swan at 7:41 PM on October 15, 2009

Response by poster: I finally had the appointment with a dermatologist today (and am rolling my eyes at myself that it took a year for me to get around to it). He wants to try liquid nitrogen first, and if that doesn't work, lasers. He told me IPL was the wrong treatment for me, because it's used on "red marks, not brown".

My first appointment for the liquid nitrogen is in two weeks' time. I'll post back about the results.
posted by orange swan at 4:53 PM on October 8, 2010

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