At the age of 37, she realized why the hell didn't I wear sunscreen?
March 5, 2013 7:28 AM   Subscribe

I am a late thirties, fair-skinned, outdoorsy, sunscreen-shunning person who now has the face to show it. Assuming from now on I don't smoke (quit several years ago), wear hats and/or sunscreen, will the accelerated aging of the skin on my face slow down to a normal rate?

So yeah, I was dumb. Now I have deep crow's feet that radiate down over my cheeks, and the skin around my eyes is paper-thin and wrinkly. I have a labial lentigo
(which is no big deal but according to Mayo Clinic a sign of sun damage).

The damage really became apparent a year or two ago, and since then I've been pretty fanatical about keeping the sun off my face. I eat a healthy diet and exercise. I'm not really interested in facial peels, chemical treatments, plastic surgery or what-have-you. I'm mainly wondering if I can expect my skin to continue to age at a faster rate than that of my peers--will the effects of all of those sunburns continue to wreak havoc even though I'm now staying out of the sun? Or can I expect my skin to age normally now, just looking about 10 years older than it should?
posted by silly me to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I do not know about your appearance, but I would find a good dermatologist, latch onto her/him, and start annual, or semi-annual inspections for skin cancer. This can range from basal cell carcinoma, which is more of a hassle and bother, if addressed promptly, to melanoma, which can kill you.

If you are of Northern European heritage, then melanoma is much more of a possibility.

I spent my childhood and teenhood burning in May and June, then having a tan for the rest of the summer. I am paying for that now.
posted by Danf at 7:34 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the following expression applies: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." Start seeing a dermatologist for skin exams on a regular basis. She may also be able to tell you how you can expect your skin to age and what you can do about it going forward.

And if you don't wear sunscreen every day, you should start. I wear this or this every day. If I'm planning to actually spend time outside in the sun, I'll usually put on something more serious but either of those is great for those times when you might have gotten a surprise sunburn (watching a late afternoon baseball game, happy hour outside, etc.).
posted by kat518 at 7:48 AM on March 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

I agree that this is the kind of question a dermatologist can answer.

It seems to me that your skin ageing would have to slow down as soon as you started wearing hats and sunscreen. I said hats AND sunscreen. Both.

Make sure your hat has at least a 2-inch brim all around.

Before you put on sunscreen, let any moisturizer sink in for 10 minutes.

If you use a chemical sunscreen, rather than a physical sunblock, leave the sunscreen on your face for 30 minutes without applying anything else; this will give it a chance to bind to your skin.

When you go to your dermatologist, ask them about topical retinoids. I put these on for the night. I apply moisturizer 15 minutes beforehand, then I apply the retinoid gel and leave it untouched for 30 minutes. To avoid irritation, I started by using the retinoid gel every 7 days for a month, then every 6 days, and so on until I was using it every day.

IANAD but I would guess that the combination of all these measures will give you the best possible chance of minimizing your sun damage. How much it can reverse it, I am unqualified to say.
posted by tel3path at 7:51 AM on March 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Seconding going to a dermatologist, finding out your options and possibly getting a prescription for Retin-A. I do the oil-cleansing method and use Retin-A nightly, and I have pretty decent skin for a 48-year-old former sun-worshipper.

For some reason, insurance won't cover Retin-A if it's prescribed for sun damage, so my dermatologist asked me if I had acne, while giving me a look to ensure I said yes.

Turns out Blue Cross will cover the prescription if it's for acne.
posted by kinetic at 8:09 AM on March 5, 2013

Gaining weight is pretty much the only thing that will fill in facial wrinkles.

You might find this McSweeny's post from today amusing.
posted by srboisvert at 8:37 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't beat yourself up. If you are in Australia, there's strong general awareness of the detrimental effects of sun, but in the US there is a lot of general obliviousness to the topic. I've discovered here in Southern California that if you are sun-averse because you don't like strong sun or because you want to protect your child against sun damage, you are treated like an extremist. I hope that changes so that future generations are better protected against sun than you probably were as a child.
posted by Dansaman at 8:39 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Go to the dermatologist, but don't forget the healing power of good nutrition: antioxidants and omega-3 (in the form of supplements, liquid chlorophyll, and near-daily blueberries and poached salmon) keep my skin in good condition.
posted by doreur at 9:17 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

nthing dermatologist. Using sunscreen and a hat 100% of the time will help, as will keeping your skin hydrated with moisturizer and regular gentle exfoliation. Your dermatologist can recommend other non-surgical ways to help improve your skin's appearance.

I am also going to second the skin cancer screening recommendation because I, a fair-skinned, sun-shunning, always-wears-sunscreen person, was just diagnosed with melanoma. I haven't had a sunburn since 1999 and have had maybe 5 sunburns in my life, but I grew up playing outside in Arizona and spent a couple of ill-advised years in my early teens trying to be tan like all the other kids. Seeing a dermatologist can not only mitigate your risk for skin cancer by catching it early and removing it, but can also help with your skin's appearance.
posted by bedhead at 9:27 AM on March 5, 2013

For sure see a dermatologist but both my mother and I have had excellent results with Dr. Perricone's diet. I highly suggest you take a look at his book Forever Young (or watch his PBS lecture on Youtube, its in 8 parts). I read his weight loss book and I've lost a lot of weight but most importantly it has improved my skin dramatically. I'm 25. My mom is 47 and she too hadn't really worn sunscreen and her age was really showing on her face. I had her change her eating habits to be more in line with Dr. Perricone's diet and it's helped a lot. You can really see the improvement.

Just a tip, we don't buy the Perricone brand skincare products but we look for organic dupes. We don't buy the Perricone brand supplements but we do eat the types of foods he recommends and we do take fish oil and one or two of the supplements he lists. So don't feel like you have to overwhelm with following the diet to a T but rather do what you can and ease into it. Here is a great 3 day diet for you to test if you'd like. Memail me if you want more details or have any questions! Good luck.
posted by xicana63 at 9:42 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't know if the wisdom on this has changed, but my understanding was that most of the skin aging you see later in life is actually caused by damage sustained before age 18 (an annual heavy sunburn, etc.) So a certain amount of your aging rate is probably fixed at this point, and you shouldn't beat yourself up about what you did and didn't do in adulthood.

Of course cumulative damage over the whole lifespan still matters, as do actions you take now, so I think militant hat- and sunglasses-wearing is really important if you want to avoid using a lot of chemicals on your face.
posted by ziggly at 9:49 AM on March 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

You asked if the sun-damage evidence will continue to increase. My own experience: My fair skin took a dive around the time I turned 50. I had stayed out of the sun for 25 years before that. I'm now 55, and my skin doesn't really look much worse than it did 5 years ago.

My sister, with darker olive skin and an intense sun-bathing history, has had the same experience. I also have a fair-skinned 51-year old friend who lived in South Africa as a child, but mostly avoided the sun after that. In the past two years, the condition of her skin has declined rapidly. The tops of her feet look especially bad; she thinks it's from childhood barefoot days in the intense sun.

Unfortunately, all you can do is wait and see. I suggest you develop excellent sun-protection practices now. Also, my freckles and dark spots become much more noticeable after even a few bright overcast days -- so I wear sunscreen even when I think I don't need it.

The look of my skin improves if I drink plenty of water and use a non-oily moisturizer like Cerave or Complex 15.
posted by wryly at 12:42 PM on March 5, 2013

Nthing the suggestion to see a dermatologist. Also, chemical peels and dermabrasion can be of therapeutic value for sun damaged skin as they can remove pre-cancerous lesions.
posted by quince at 5:53 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for your answers. It's off to the dermatologist for me!
posted by silly me at 1:54 PM on March 6, 2013

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