(This article was published in the July 2014 issue of Southwest Florida Health & Wellness… see the article online here.)

By Kriston J. Kent, M.D., MPH

July is UV Safety Month, and it is as important as ever to protect your skin from excessive exposure to the damaging effects of the sun via UV radiation.  However, if you want to truly maximize your protection from these invisible damaging rays, correct the damage as it occurs, and repair damage from exposure in years past, then simply placing sunscreen on our skin each day is woefully inadequate.

Exciting New and Existing Products available
When I was young, we were not aware of the damage we were causing every time we went to the beach, or played in the sun, to get a “healthy, good-looking tan”.  However, we soon learned that we should use sunscreen to protect against any further damage which leads to the less than ideal skin aging and appearance.  Today, there are a host of products available, which can dramatically alter the skin aging process. Some products provide primarily ongoing prevention, while others can actually reverse existing sun damage and improve aesthetic appearance.  These products actually include powerful antioxidant serums, reparative growth factors, dead skin exfoliants, plant and human stem cells, and products which improve/correct skin pigmentation problems.  Some of these products are widely available.  However, many of the best products are only found in aesthetic physicians’ offices and some even require a prescription.

Highlighting the Best Products Antioxidants
The best “tried and true” antioxidant/DNA repairing serums include patented L- ascorbic acid, tocopherols, and ferulic acid mixtures; while the best new antioxidants/DNA repairing serums include the addition of phloretin and resveratrol.

Reparative growth factors
Many products exist containing plant stem cells, glucosamine, ginseng, sericin, beta glucans, and other polypeptides.  All of these products tend to help us repair and protect our DNA against damage from UVB radiation during sun exposure.

Exfoliants
Since the time of Cleopatra, over 2000 years ago, mild acids have been used topically to remove thick layers of dead skin and expose the healthier skin below the surface.  More recently, alphahydroxy acids (AHA) of all types have been used to accomplish this even better.  Though exfoliants don’t typically provide a direct protection or repair from UVB damage, their routine use does tend to allow antioxidant serums, growth factors, and stem cells to penetrate better into the living layers of skin, where they have their effects.

Stem Cells
Though many products now contain plant stem cells, there are questions about how beneficial plant stem cells are at protecting and repairing human DNA damage.  However, there is much excitement about the recent availability of non-embryonic human stem cells.  These new stem cells, also known as parthenogenetic stem cells, are now available in selected physicians’ offices from a company called Lifeline Skin Care.  Unlike plant stem cells, these human stem cells are far more likely to provide dramatic benefits to repair and protect our DNA.

Irregular Pigmentation
Powerful products are now available to address problems with irregular pigmentation of our skin, particularly on the face.  Some of these formulations include tretinion and hydroquinone which are “tried and true”. These prescription strength products can improve UV induced pigmentation issues.  However, several new products are now available using newer Retinols and non-hydroquinone products which can provide very significant improvement in skin pigmentation problems.  Because these products tend to be quite irritating, it is best to use them under the care of a skin care professional, and an experienced aesthetic physician.

In summary, most dermatologists, aesthetic plastic surgeons, and other professionals interested in preventing ultraviolet damage to our skin are happy if patients routinely clean their skin and provide sunscreen for protection.  However, with so many amazing new products available, which can accomplish much more, why should we settle for the slow deterioration of our skin health and appearance due to excessive prior, unprotected sun exposure?  Why not repair UV damage as it occurs, and even reverse old damage, in addition to the use of sunscreens?  Sun protection and rejuvenation is truly more than simply using sunscreens!!