Fun in the sun: fixing the heat

Everyone loves to spend time in the sun, but skin cancer today is more prevalent and more aggressive than it used to be, said dermatologist Dr Maria Vitale at a recent presentation for Genop Healthcare Cantabria Labs about the importance of year-round sun protection. A global survey in 2018 revealed that 90% of skin cancer is the result of solar radiation. No less dangerous is environmental pollution: 92% of the world’s population is exposed to levels that exceed the limits set by the World Health Organisation. 

Even if it doesn’t result in cancer, exposure to sun and pollution triggers molecular processes that damage the structure of the skin and lead to its aged appearance. In order to function effectively as a barrier, the skin needs all the help it can get, in the form of sunscreen, antioxidants and, to repair damage, specialised procedures by dermatologists.

According to Dr Vitale, the ideal sun care therapy triangle comprises protection and repair; topical treatment; and procedures.


Protection and repair

The main therapeutic strategy to prevent and treat skin damage from solar radiation and pollution is to use wide-spectrum photoprotection – minimum SPF30+ sunscreen combined with anti-oxidants – every day. The latest news from skin care research is that free radicals appear within minutes after exposure to the sun and continue to develop for another 60 minutes. Sunscreen reduces this development by 55% and added antioxidants, taken orally, increase protection by 17%. Thus the most recent trend in sun care is the topical sunscreen–oral antioxidant combo, which neutralises the action of free radicals, repairs skin damage and prevents dermatosis caused or worsened by solar radiation.

Sunscreen products New-generation sunblocks can help reverse sun damage as well as prevent it. Many
of the latest sunscreens contain anti-
oxidants such as pycnogenol, Bai­calin, ferulic acid and Fernblock, which mitigate the effects of infrared radiation and atmospheric pollution. An example is Heliocare 360 AK Fluid 100+, which creates a protective film and is particularly recommended for those with scaly sun spots and skin cancers. 

Also try SkinCeuticals Advanced Pigment Corrector and Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF50; La Roche-Posay Anthelios range; NIVEA SUN range; Eucerin Sun Protection range; DermaCeutic Yellow Cream for Brown Marks and Pigmentation; Lamelle Helase 50; and ISDIN Eryfotona® AK-NMSC.

Oral supplement Heliocare Ultra
Oral Capsules contain Fernblock, peptides, vitamins and prebiotics that help your skin and gut stay healthy. One capsule taken 30 minutes before expo­sure to the sun significantly reduces the chances of sun damage.

Topical treatment

A clear skin is the foundation of a youthful appearance, says Dr Xenephin Ludick of The Longevity Institute. “The single most ageing marker is uneven skin tone. Our treatments, be they products or procedures, strive for flawless skin with no blemishes. However, once melanocytes are damaged beyond repair, it is a lifelong problem.”

Damaged melanocytes result in the overproduction of melanin, which leads to pigmentation. Melanocytes can be calmed with ingredients such as arbutin and niacinamide. It is possible to lighten pigmentation with the likes of liquorice root extract, Bisabolol or Recorcinol.

This type of treatment is usually done in a salon or medi-spa. Dermatologist Dr Noori Moti-Joosub, from Laserderm, says, “When looking at the aesthetics of the skin, I prefer to work from the surface inwards. That does tend to mean that sometimes our superficial treatments – facials, micro-dermabrasion and peels – will give great aesthetic results but they do not last long.”


A facial is a good start if your skin needs a little pick-me-up, though the older you get, the less result you will see.

Micro-dermabrasion (MDA)  

This is an exfoliation and gives a little glow, but the results are temporary on older skin.

Chemical skin peel 

A peel is best suited for mild sun damage. It is important to select the correct agent for your skin type and not go too deep at first. Regular peeling (more than once or twice a year) is not recommended as it makes the epidermis thinner. The skin typically becomes dry and tight, then peels off gradually over a few days or weeks. Drawbacks include the long downtime, the risk of chemical burns, post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation and short-lived results. Chemical peels range in price from about R350 to R1 200.


Procedures tend to be deeper treatments and are often carried out in doctors’ rooms. More than one treatment is often needed to obtain the required result.

Intense pulsed light (IPL) 

If you have fair skin, intense pulsed light delivers excellent re-sults in terms of superficial freckling and blood vessels. IPL treatment targets darker areas of the skin, which absorb the pulsed light, darken, scab and fall off, leaving a more even-toned skin surface. Darkened lesions typically take between a few days and two weeks to fall off. Drawbacks include the fact that multiple treatments may be needed to lighten particularly dark sun spots, and that the treatment is superficial. Underlying sun damage sometimes becomes evident within a few months, requiring further treatment. Also, there is a high risk of burns if you are dark-skinned or have a tan. The treatment is not recommended for a few weeks before or after sun exposure, and is probably best suited to those with early sun damage. Treatment costs usually start at about R500.

Vampire facial 

This highly skilled treatment involves injecting your own blood products back into the skin – into the dermis for best results. For three months after the treatment, your skin will look completely rejuvenated. It’s a painful process but, says Dr Moti-Joosub, well worth the effort.

Skin needling  

Making minute needle holes in the skin allows active serums to penetrate its deeper layers. It also creates micro-trauma, which heals with new collagen synthesis. This treatment is effective in treating sun damage and can be used in conjunction with others, says Dr Natasha Chapman from Aesthetics on 5th, Hyde Park. Downtime is minimal (one to three days of redness). Costs start at R1 800, depending on the quality of the serum and the needling device. 

Fraxel laser 

An amazing treatment for fine lines, scarring, pigmentation and the stimulation of collagen, Fraxel laser has only one drawback: it is less effective on superficial freckling, says Dr Moti-Joosub. “But its anti-ageing effects far outweigh any negatives.” The laser takes out tiny columns of tissue in the epidermis, removing pigmentation and creating micro-injuries that heal with the formation of collagen. Downtime is usually one to four days and this treatment goes much deeper than others, giving longer-lasting results, as well as the bonus of stimulating collagen formation to produce a smoother texture. Costs start at R1 900. 

CO2 laser 

This laser goes even deeper, vaporising the skin’s surface to remove moderate to severe sun damage and promote collagen formation. It is usually also fractionated, meaning that a percentage of skin is treated, which reduces downtime. Nevertheless, downtime is seven to 10 days. Costs start at R5 000.

Photo-dynamic therapy (PDT) 

A very effective remedy for actinic keratoses and sun spots, PDT even treats lesions that are not yet visible. A cream containing ALA (a light-activated chemical compound) is applied and left on for a few hours, then activated by the PDT light. Drawbacks of this treatment are that it is quite painful and the downtime can last a few weeks. Costs start from R2 500.

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