But here's a ray of (UV-free) light: You can reverse the damage. "Whenever you start protecting yourself from the sun, you will stop the process of additional damage and start to reverse, to some extent, what you've already accumulated," Schultz says. Throw in this four-step treatment, and you are well on your way to some serious skin recovery.
Step 1: Exfoliate the right way You want to smooth your skin to create brightness and luster, and chemical exfoliation is the best way to do just that, Schultz says. Chemical exfoliation dissolves dead skin cells instead of scrubbing them off (usually unevenly) the way buffers and granule cleansers do.
When choosing a chemical exfoliant, opt for a product with a 5 percent to 8 percent concentration of glycolic acid, like BeautyRX Daily Exfoliating Therapy Serum ($65, drugstore.com). The active ingredient is vital in removing the extra layers of dead cells that are holding all of the brown pigment that has clumped and accumulated over the years. And whichever exfoliant you choose, follow the directions!
Step 2: Beat brown spots The next step is to rid yourself of those brown splotches. While the product you need is commonly called "skin bleach," there's nothing bleachy about it. It will have the end effect of lightening the brown areas of your skin, but it will do so by stopping the skin's uneven production of melanin (brown pigment) that your skin churns out when it tries to fight UV radiation. Look for a bleach, like Murad Age Spot & Pigment Gel ($60, sephora.com) with a 2 percent concentration of hydroquinone (the active ingredient), and apply it two to three times a day on the darkened areas.
Bonus points If you followed step 1 before jumping to step 2 — exfoliation actually helps the hydroquinone work better by allowing it to better penetrate the skin.
Step 3: Burn no more To maintain your improvement, use sunscreen every day to prevent additional damage. New FDA recommendations emphasize using sunscreen labeled as broad spectrum (meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays) with SPF values of 15 or higher. While new sunscreen label regulations won't take full effect until summer 2012, some are already broad-spectrum now. Try MDSolarSciences Mineral Screen Gel ($30, mdsolarsciences.com). To maximize the sunscreen's protection, apply it 30 minutes before exposure and reapply at least every two hours. "The amount of sunscreen that you need to use for your entire body, assuming you're at the beach and you're just wearing a bathing suit, is about an ounce in order to get the actual SPF value," Schultz says. Not too good at ounces? It's a shot glass's worth.
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