Your No-BS Guide on How to Treat Sun Damage

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Whether you're planning a tropical getaway for vacation or your annual ski trip in the mountains (or just staying inside for the foreseeable future), the fact is this: you should be slathering on sunscreen every day, 365 days a year. Ask any dermatologist and they will tell you it is the single most important thing you can do for your skin for a myriad of reasons, including that skipping SPF can lead to sun damage.

While forgetting to put on sunscreen one day won't immediately cause adverse effects, the consequences of not protecting your skin as much as possible can accumulate over time. "Unprotected skin that is not protected from sunlight is more readily exposed to powerful UV rays," dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD, FAAD, tells POPSUGAR. "These sun rays can damage healthy skin cells over time, which is when many start to notice those subtle differences in the appearance of their skin."

Here, we're breaking down exactly what too much fun in the sun can do to your skin — and how to prevent and treat any damage in the future.

What Exactly Is Sun Damage?

"Sun damage is when your unprotected skin is directly exposed to sunlight and the skin cells experience damage," Dr. Henry says. "This means the UVA and UVB sun rays may alter the skin cell DNA or stimulate other cellular processes, ultimately causing certain skin changes."

Some of these skin changes may include uneven pigmentation, skin freckling, brown sun spots, and even skin cancer.

What Does Sun Damage Look Like?

Though you may only notice sun damage on your face, the truth is it's just as common to experience sun damage on your body, which is why applying body sunscreen is just as important — particularly in the summer when wearing less clothes. "On both the face and the body, sun damage may manifest as skin wrinkling, hyperpigmentation, skin thickening, and the appearance of sun spots," Dr. Henry says. "The worst manifestation — skin cancer — can occur on both the face and the body. The face does often suffer the most because it is more regularly exposed."

What's more, sun damage does not discriminate based on your skin tone, skin type, or age, so while you may not notice any difference in your skin right away, that doesn't mean it's not happening below the surface.

How to Prevent Sun Damage

The first, and most effective, way to treat sun damage is to prevent it in the first place. Given that wearing sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher decreases the risk of melanoma by about 50 percent, Dr. Henry has a few tips on how you can properly practice sun safety year-round. "Applying sunscreen, even when indoors, is a great way to prevent sun damage in the future," Dr. Henry says. "Reapply every two hours or more when wet from a pool/beach day (or even after a midday shower)."

Dr. Henry recommends the Love Sun Body's Sheer Power Daily Moisturizing Mineral Face Sunscreen ($42) for sensitive and oily skin types, but you can also find editor-vetted sunscreens for acne-prone skin, your body, and even water-resistant formulas as you squeeze in those last few beach days. We love the Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50+ Sunscreen ($49) as well as the Supergoop Play Body Sunscreen Mousse SPF 50 ($34) and Aveeno Protect & Hydrate Sunscreen Face Lotion ($9).

How to Treat Sun Damage

If you already have sun damage, there are options for treatment. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, common in-office procedures to treat sun damage can include chemical peels, laser resurfacing, or injectable fillers, depending on how the damage is presenting.

Jennifer Herrmann, MD, FAAD, a board-certified, fellowship-trained dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon, recommends fractionated CO2 laser specifically. "The fractionated CO2 laser is best for removing significant sun damage," Dr. Herrmann previously told POPSUGAR. "By helping your skin grow its own new collagen, it can very effectively reduce lines around the eyes and mouth. It is also great for removing brown spots in a single treatment and improving the overall health of the skin because it physically removes damage." Other laser options might include ResurFX, Fractionated Erbium, and more, but it's best to speak with your dermatologist to find the right option for you.

As you continue to figure out your ideal skin-care routine, keep these tips in mind and remember: no matter what your skin-care routine looks like, you're not done until you add your SPF.