I am 55 years old with skin that tans quite easily. I was a product of the 80’s when the thought was “the tanner the better.” Well I am seeing the results of that now. Are there laser treatments available for actinic keratoses? I have sun damage actinic keratosis spots on my arms and legs that really bother me. Thank you for sharing this! I’m hoping readers will see this and take even better care of their skin.
When you think of “sun” really think “light” because UVA is present all day long, and UVB is strongest from about 10-3 but still present at other hours. Tanning IS skin injury! Because it’s your skin’s protective response (increase the melanin) to UV radiation. The cells in your skin are injured and they respond by increasing the melanin production. Melanin is just color and absorbs UV radiation to protect the skin.
Here’s the problem. Those of us who’s ancestors came from cloudy, cold climates don’t have much melanin naturally, and now many of us live in sunny climates. Conversely, if our ancestors came from very sunny areas, especially near the equator, we evolved to live in sunny climates with lots of natural melanin in our skin. We more natural protection, if that’s the case.
What if you over did “sun” in the past, what happens?
Lighter skin types at first will often tan, but then skin becomes blotchy, red, wrinkled and leathery. And then develops actinic keratoses (AKs – precancerous) and skin cancers.
Medium skin types will tan easily, but then skin developed brown spots or melasma, and wrinkles. Skin cancers are less common.
Darker skin types often develop uneven skin with brown spots over time. Skin cancers are rare. Wrinkles less of a problem.
What can you do now if you’ve done the damage?
First, see a dermatologist for a risk assessment and to treat any current AKs and skin cancers
Wear a high zinc (10-20%) sunscreen every day in the affected area, cover up and wear a hat.
Do the medical treatments available for precancerous lesions (AKs). There are many including liquid nitrogen, “chemo cream” (5-fluorouracil), Picato, Aldara, blue light, etc. These will help, but the lesions often recur.
Consider CO2 laser as a more permanent solution. About 10-20% of the skin is removed in the area with each treatment, depending on the depth. This laser goes deeper than other lasers. Technically with 5 treatments you would approach about a 90% reduction. We use this in our clinic and there is a lot of medical literature on it. There is downtime, and most insurance currently will not cover it. You also need an expert dermatologist who does a lot of CO2 laser because it takes experience to get the depth right.
Hope this helps,
Dr. Brandith Irwin
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