Sun damaged skin

Who grew up with peeling sunburns, skin oil instead of sunscreen and a love of the outdoors? Chances are you might be sporting some sun damage from your exploits. Sun damage can present as a reddish/brown shawl around your neck (the Qld ‘’V’’), thinning skin with wrinkles, little scaly patches of skin that come back even if you buff them off, dappled pigmentation, and of course, skin cancers.

The management of skin cancers varies but usually consists of surgical excision of the lesion and some surrounding skin. Sun damage requires a bit of a different approach as the areas of skin involved are much larger, and GPs will be inclined to use what we call ‘field therapy’ in this situation.

Field therapies are an important management tool as they reduce the chance of skin cancers (squamous cell cancers in particular) arising. They can also improve skin texture and pigmentation, making your skin much smoother and easier to care for. Less scratchy, craggy bits!

One of the simplest but most effective forms of field therapy for sun damage is to apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30+ every single morning (and more frequently if you are out in the sun for more than brief periods). This will reduce the number of little scaly patches by around 50% over a year – not a bad hit rate. If more intense therapies are required then your GP might be able to offer some chemotherapy options – usually creams applied for quite a few weeks at a time, or as a once-off topical treatment that is activated by strong light (or sometimes even sunlight). These treatments are very effective, but all involve a degree of skin discomfort, redness and peeling as a part of the process.

Following a field treatment you can prolong the beneficial effects for as long as possible by ensuring very good sun protection, the ongoing use of sunscreen every day, and sometimes using a topical form of vitamin A on the skin.

For more information on skin and skin conditions this New Zealand website is a great resource:

Dr Cath Hester

These articles are not intended to replace a one-to-one relationship with a qualified health professional or as specific medical advice. They are intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from experience and research in the scientific literature. I encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon a partnership with a qualified health care professional.