Can You Fix Sun Damage on Your Skin Before Your Wedding Day?
It's possible, but sunscreen is still your best bet.
Derms, your mom, and your bridesmaids who all moonlight as skincare advisors will all tell you: Sunscreen is your first line of defense against dark spots or premature fine lines and wrinkles caused by sun damage.
The logic? It's easier to prevent a problem from happening than to fix it later, but that advice isn't helpful when discoloration shows up on your nose ahead of your wedding date, and you don't know what to do about it. So, what do you do when the damage is already done? Is there actually a way to fix sun damage?
When we're specifically talking about dark spots, or sun spots, the answer is yes. However, it's not as simple as slapping on some cream and calling it a day.
That's because sun damage doesn't just consist of sun spots (or concentrations of melanin produced by melanocytes cells) and fine lines. Sun damage can also encompass serious, potentially deadly issues at a cellular level, which could lead to skin cancer. So, we should preface again by saying staying out of the sun and wearing SPF is your safest and best option.
But if there are dark spots and other forms of sun damage that bother you and you want them gone before your big day, board-certified dermatologists Dr. Ariel Ostad, Dr. Rita V. Linkner, and Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd are here to help.
What Are My Options for Getting Rid of Sun Damage?
You can use topical treatments or go into a dermatologist's office for a laser procedure. The choice depends on your preference, budget, skin tone, and wedding timeline.
"Lasers are an effective treatment to completely remove sun spots – we usually use Fraxel or the PicoWay laser to lighten spots and even out the skin tone with beams of light in specific wavelengths," Dr. Ostad explains. "Skin initially gets darker right after the treatment, followed by the lesion crusting over and shedding. After two weeks, the patient can expect noticeably clearer skin as a new layer is able to grow."
But before you make an appointment, keep it mind that laser treatments aren't necessarily cheap. One round can cost upwards of $1,000, which is a hell of a lot more expensive than a $30 bottle of sunscreen. Another con is that lasers aren't suitable for all skin tones.
"Sun spots aka solar lentigos are common in lighter skin types and can be treated with lasers or IPL," Dr. Woolery-Lloyd says. "These treatments, however, are not safe in darker skin types."
In terms of topical options, Dr. Linkner and Dr. Woolery-Lloyd both agree that quality skincare products can also help.
"Serums that contain ingredients like licorice, vitamin C, arbutin, soy, or niacinamide can help to improve hyperpigmentation," Dr. Woolery-Lloyd says in terms of daytime skincare. "Plan for a minimum of three months of treatment to get the best results."
For nighttime, consider using a retinoid product, which also helps to fight the signs of photoaging from sun damage. "A retinoid at night can improve skin texture and also help to prevent breakouts," she adds.
How Long Will It Take to Fix Sun Damage?
Long story short, it depends. And results may very from person to person.
"Faint ill-defined 'uneven skin tone' can improve in as little as two weeks with a good skincare regimen focused on hyperpigmentation," Dr. Woolery-Lloyd explains. "Dark spots can fade in three to four weeks with a targeted treatment like hydroquinone. Melasma can improve in four to six weeks — the challenge with melasma is maintaining the improvement — and deep pigment in the dermis can take many, many months to clear."
For laser treatment, Dr. Woolery-Lloyd recommends brides book their first appointment approximately two months before their wedding day.
VIDEO: When You Apply Sunscreen in Your Skincare Routine Actually Matters A Lot
How Do I Prevent Sun Damage From Returning Before My Wedding Day?
Dr. Linkner says in order to prevent sun damage from happening, she recommends all of her clients use an appropriate sunscreen, and a vitamin C product, daily. "My go-to sunscreen for the work week is Alastin's Hydratint," she says. "I like this one in particular because it carries a blocker of infrared light, which is shown to cause melasma in the skin."
She also recommends EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 for anyone who will be spending more time outdoors before their wedding.
Nothing I'm Doing Is Working, What Should I Do Now?
If no treatment seems to be working, it may be a good idea to make an appointment with your dermatologist to let them assess the damage and rule out anything more serious.
"It's important to have annual skin exams performed by physicians to detect early signs of skin cancer," says Dr. Ostad. "Between these exams, you should be paying attention to any moles on your body to monitor for changes that ABCDE’s of skin cancer (A is for Asymmetry, B is for an irregular border, C is for color variation, D is for diameter greater than 6mm, and E is for evolving from your other moles or is independently changing in size, shape or color).