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Doctor K: Treatments may help damaged skin

Thu., Oct. 11, 2012, midnight

DEAR DOCTOR K: I was a sun worshipper in my teens. Now, in my 60s, my skin is paying for it. Is it possible to reverse signs of sun damage?

DEAR READER: The answer is yes. That’s not only good news for you; it’s also good news for me. I was raised in Los Angeles and spent nearly every weekend of my youth on the beach – without sunscreen.

Several treatments on the market and at your dermatologist’s office can combat signs of sun damage:

Anti-aging creams. Prescription-strength retinoids, found in many of these products, can reverse some of the signs of skin aging, but they sometimes leave sensitive skin red and irritated. Products containing antioxidants and vitamin C may help a bit.

Laser resurfacing. An intense beam of laser light can wipe years of sun-related damage from the skin. In the past, the only available laser treatments removed the entire outer layer of skin. The new skin that grew back in its place had a smoother, more youthful appearance. The laser also triggered the formation of collagen, the protein that gives young skin its elasticity. In addition, it removed precancerous lesions before they could turn into full-fledged cancer.

The downside was that for several weeks, you were left with red, raw-looking skin. If you didn’t want folks to see you this way, you had to hide out for a while.

Today, there is a newer procedure called “fractional resurfacing” that works almost as well as laser resurfacing, but without producing the raw-looking skin appearance. Fractional resurfacing requires repeat sessions, but the recovery time is much faster and there is less scarring or other complications.

Chemical peels. Chemicals strip away sun-damaged skin. A glycolic acid peel is the gentlest type and removes only the outer layer of skin. Deeper chemical peels, done by a dermatologist, remove all but the deepest layers of skin.

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