We see them all of the time – women with boat-baked, folded-fan lines spreading from their collar bones down over their rippled breast skin, complete with ruddy patches and amphibian spots. Not so beautiful... But perfectly avoidable! However, convincing many people to routinely wear SPF, even in the more critical conditions such as high summer and high altitudes, can seem like trying to get a six year old to wash behind the ears. Your well-intended warnings are often gratefully received and then completely forgotten.
Now, if you are anything like the aesthetician I am, you do your best to guide your clients without scolding and then patch up whatever abused skin they bring in to you. I always feel a little sorry for the apologetic, sheepish client who arrives wrapped in the plain brown paper skin that a summer vacation or winter ski trip produced. How they choose to live is none of my business, but making them look better, in spite of that lifestyle, is very much my business.
Conditions of Post-Sun Skin
Post-sun skin is usually severely thickened and dehydrated, with a built-up stratum corneum which looks dull, feels creepy. It has all the visual appeal of an old roadmap printed on yellowed parchment paper. Not so pretty. It may be flaking and peeling. It is often uneven, creating an advanced aging look as those little fish scales of deceased skin reflect a pale white light.
If your client is prone to hyperpigmentation, then this dance with the sun devil may have left little souvenirs of brown party confetti all over the face. This could appear as anything from a smattering of light freckles to wide islands of dark spots interconnected by tiny bridges of dilated capillaries – no vacation paradise. “I know that I should not have gone out there like that,” says your client, all the while hoping that you have some way of concealing the evidence of their dermal crime. And, of course, there are numerous other hazards to over-sunning the skin, but for the purpose of addressing the most common and easily improved effects, we will stick with those I have listed here.
Treating Post-Sun Skin
Since post-sun skin is dry, you may be tempted to apply all of the moisturizer you can. Roll your client in it, if you like. And all that will do it is to add a little softness and shine to a bad situation – sort of like spraying cooking oil on beef jerky. Even worse, this worn out overcoat of skin may be blocking pores and impeding their work of sebum and waste elimination. We all know what that can lead to. Not nice!
Here is how I approach this situation in my skin care practice. Assuming that we are not dealing with sunburn or other traumas that may make immediate treatment ill-advised, I always begin by doing my best to make a sun-baked client not feel ashamed or guilty. Look, we all have our naughty proclivities (alcohol, sugar, coffee, and so on) and even if we are as pure as organic angel kisses, it is not helpful to promote unhappy emotions in an apologetic and paying customer. So, let us take them off the hook and do our best to put a shine on an otherwise beach-battered complexion.
"Assuming that we are not dealing with sunburn or other traumas that may make immediate treatment ill-advised, I always begin by doing my best to make a sun-baked client not feel ashamed or guilty."
Plan A: clear away the brush! You guessed it – the best way to quickly improve this weary skin is to work through the dry overgrowth that is hiding the otherwise healthier skin below it in the epidermis. This calls for some heavy equipment, usually an exfoliating method with more muscle than enzymes alone – although sometimes I begin with enzymes for a double-peeling effect, especially with new clients whose skin I cannot yet trust for sensitivity. When that is done and all has gone well, I will follow up with anything from a 25 percent lactic peel to 30 percent or more in glycolic acid. Just a couple of minutes with these as I monitor for reactivity. If the skin has sufficiently flattened, I often like to apply a potent peptide serum beneath an alginate peel-off mask. The occlusive action of this process not only aids in the penetration of the peptides, but also stimulates blood circulation and is a fun experience for the client. They love to feel that mask lifting off in a single layer! I follow this with a healthy layer of hyaluronic acid serum blended with vitamin C, topped with a hydrating sunblock during the day or peptide moisturizer after sunset (I did not mention other steps such as massage, toner, eye cream and other likely treatment essentials in this description.)
Plan B: I could include or perhaps replace enzymes with a microdermabrasion treatment. What makes me consider this a second option? It has been my experience that most women over 40 have just enough capillary weakness to the point that microdermabrasion proves to be just too aggressive for those delicate tissues. The last thing I want to do to already fragile capillaries is to encourage stretching them out with heavy pressure blood volume that often results from the friction of that modality. Of course, that is my own sense of caution. I am no wimp when it comes to treating skin, but I have seen enough inappropriately abraded faces and necks to know when something previously did not go well.
Plan C: The bomb! This is where I prescribe a series of high-potency peels to blast away the thickened outer skin layer, stimulate fast-turnover collagen production, and fire up the most powerful effect I can get on apparent hyperpigmentation. Use TCA combos, vitamin A, Jessner – whatever works best in your practice.
This is a great opportunity for you to motivate your client to visit on a slightly more frequent basis for a series of skin-correcting treatments. They will probably agree, desiring to look better. In a sequence of visits, you will lock in multiple advance appointments that you might otherwise have missed.
Home Care Products for Post-Sun Skin
Sun-damaged skin correction opens the door to more home care products. Since clients must carry on the process of improvement you have begun, now is the perfect time to re-evaluate your client’s personal skin care regimen to determine what is in it and what might be needed to address the effects of excessive sun exposure. In this case, we are hoping that your client already owns your best sun protection product, but if not, at least begin there. Since most of my own skin care clients are already well-equipped with a steady home regimen, I use the post-sun condition to introduce a couple of new, but sometimes temporary products, to their routine. Because we are dealing with a thickened stratum corneum, I might recommend a granular or gommage type exfoliator to assist with the glycolic treatment they are presently using. If the skin has become hyper-dehydrated, then a collagen or humectant-rich mask could be useful, especially if the sun exposure happened during dry winter months. If the client has not been using a cellular stimulating peptide serum, this is a very good time to begin one. Swift cell replacement and fortified collagen production could not be more important than now! So, think “boosting” the home care plan when it comes to your retail role in post-sun skin care management.
An Ounce of Prevention
And do not forget that the best cure for sun damage is protecting it in advance of it happening or, as we say, prevention. In your marketing efforts, be sure to include information about and solutions for dangerous, youth-destroying solar rays. May is always a great month to begin this, as well as during your regular pre-sun season facial appointments. Why wait until it is too late? You can also use the sun-heavy season ahead to promote deeper peeling treatments for clients whose lifestyle might make them inappropriate during summer months. The best approach for the savvy and caring aesthetician is to stay ahead of the situation so that you are proactive instead of reactive!
As much as we would prefer to see our clients hide away from sunlight other than to receive correct doses of vitamin D, ultraviolet overexposure is a fact of life and a real business-building aspect of professional aesthetics. You are helping your practice as much as helping your clients. Both will profit from your attention!