Sunburn SOS: how to save your patients skin

It’s that time of year when lots of us are soaking up the sun in pursuit of a sun-kissed glow.

But many are left disappointed when, instead of turning ‘olive-brown,’ their skin resembles ‘lobster-red’.

In fact, a poll by the British Association of Dermatologists found that in 2014 three-quarters of Britons sunburned.

Cancer Research UK reports that in the UK almost nine out of 10 cases of skin cancer could be prevented through enjoying the sun safely and avoiding the use of sunbeds. Even getting sunburnt just once over a two year period can triple the risk of melanoma skin cancer and so it is extremely important to promote good sun safety with patients.

Even those who manage to avoid the dreaded sunburn and achieve the bronzed radiance they so desire are causing permanent damage to their skin. The heat, coupled with UV rays, can cause dryness, sunspots, melasma and fine lines and wrinkles, to name just a few of the less appealing consequences of excess sun exposure.

Practitioners are able to offer patients a number of skin treatments to help with signs of sun damage. Here’s our guide to the top skin treatments for different symptoms of sun damaged skin.

Dry Skin

Our skin needs water, but when the sun takes that moisture away, you’re left with rough, dry patches which can pose a persistent problem.

Using a moisturiser with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) or a facial serum with hyaluronic acid can help to improve dry skin. AHAs can help stimulate the production of new collagen, that give skin its texture and appearance, whilst hyaluronic acid (HA) will enhance the moisture content.

Tip: It is important to avoid using AHAs or other acids on any sunburned skin as they may cause further skin irritation.

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Melasma is a common side effect caused by too much sun exposure and leads to splotchy brown or greyish patches on the skin.

Skin lightening lotions can help reverse the condition, such as those containing hydroquinone, kojic acid, and glycolic acid.

Laser therapy is also an option as it can remove outer layers of the skin, making way for the new. However, fractional 1550/1540 nm non-ablative laser therapy is the only one that has been approved by the FDA for melasma.

Lasers can be used on a variety of pigmented discoloured skin problems. The direct heat on the pigmented skin results in damage without harming the surrounding areas.

Tip: To ensure successful results of any melasma treatment it is essential to strictly avoid further sun exposure and liberally use broad-spectrum sunscreen.

Fine lines and wrinkles

UV rays are responsible for breaking down collagen and elastin, which keep skin firm and smooth, causing wrinkles.

Botulinum toxin type A injections are seen as many as the top go to aesthetic treatment for fine line and wrinkles. By injecting botulinum toxin into muscles, signals from the nerves to the muscles are blocked, meaning they no longer contract. This prevents the muscles from forming wrinkles and also softens existing ones.

Tip: If your patient would prefer not to go under the needle, they can try skincare products with HA. HA acts like a sponge, holding vast amounts of water in the skin, which effectively plumps it out, helping to fill in some of those fine lines.

Create new habits

It’s never too late to protect the skin from further damage, by following these simple guidelines. As a practitioner you should encourage good sun safety in your patients by advising them to:

  • Avoid direct sunlight on the skin between 10am and 3pm – this is when UV rays are strongest in the UK.
  • Wear protective clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30
  • Apply a thick layer of sunscreen to all exposed skin, and reapply every 80 minutes when out in the sun and after swimming and sweating

Find out more about the best ways to prevent sun damage.

Know when to see a dermatologist

Above all, if you or your patients have any concerns around sun damage, it is advisable to seek the advice and guidance of a dermatologist. Especially if the sun damage causes any new or changing marks, as this could be a sign of skin cancer. In this instance early identification and treatment is important.

As a practitioner you should always be mindful of the time of year that patients are seeking cosmetic procedures. For example, are they due to be heading off for a hot and sunny summer holiday? Some procedures will require patients to stay out of the sun for a period of time after their treatment and so it is advised that you fully understand your patients motivations and plans, taking into account the timing of the procedure in relation to their plans, so that you can inform them accordingly.

In addition, some ingredients used in products; such as acetic acid and retinoids, can increase skin sensitivity and so patients should also be reminded to stay out of the sun if they are using these products.

As a practitioner, providing a comprehensive after care package, including information related to sun exposure, can really help to educate and remind patients how to effectively care for their skin in the sun, especially following a cosmetic procedure, and also help to prevent sun damage in the future.

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