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12 DIY Ways to Improve Sun-Damaged Skin

Banish spots and discolorations while keeping skin protected against future issues


spinner image smiling woman sitting in shade at pool wearing sunglasses and hat and applying sunscreen
Getty Images

Once upon a time getting some vacation sun or plopping onto a tanning bed was a spring ritual. We looked forward to balmy days and “lying out.” Now we moan, “If only I hadn’t sunbathed!” as wrinkles, brown sunspots, saggy skin, spider veins and skin cancer creep up our faces and bodies and scare the daylights out of us. I asked dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, an associate professor and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai hospital in New York City, for pro tips to supplement my beauty editor two cents. Here are a dozen ways to brighten your skin and looks by June.

spinner image Honest Beauty Vitamin C Radiance Serum; artnaturals Vitamin C Serum; Josie Maran Get Even Sun Milk SPF 33
(Left to right) Honest Beauty Vitamin C Radiance Serum; Artnaturals Vitamin C Serum; Josie Maran Get Even Sun Milk SPF 33
Target (2); Sephora

1. Team up vitamin C and sunscreen

This powerhouse duo is the macaroni and cheese of sun damage repair and protection. Each is fine solo, but together they are amazing. While a high-SPF broad-spectrum sunscreen is crucial to preventing more sun damage, vitamin C boosts your SPF’s efficacy and takes things up a big notch. Layer a serum like Honest Beauty Vitamin C Radiance Serum ($34, target.com) or Artnaturals Vitamin C Serum ($13, target.com) under your daily moisturizer and a hydrating sunscreen like Josie Maran Get Even Sun Milk SPF 33 ($46, sephora.com) each morning. “A vitamin C serum is the best topical antioxidant available to treat sun-damaged skin and combat ultraviolet light,” says Zeichner. “It neutralizes free-radical damage and production of abnormal skin pigment and helps produce new healthy collagen. Double down on your daily benefits by using both C and sunscreen!” Just a reminder, those “free radicals” are unstable molecules that latch on to healthy skin cells and lead to sagging, wrinkles, fine lines and pigmentation.

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spinner image Coolibar Women’s Marietas Sun Wrap UPF 50 in Grey & White Stripe; L.L. Bean Women’s Sunday Afternoons Havana Hat in Tan; Prive Revaux The Commando 2.0 Polarized in Caviar Black
(Clockwise from left) Coolibar Women’s Marietas Sun Wrap UPF 50 in Grey & White Stripe; L.L. Bean Women’s Sunday Afternoons Havana Hat in Tan; Privé Revaux The Commando 2.0 Polarized in Caviar Black
Coolibar; L.L. Bean; Privé Revaux

2. Make sunscreen accessories part of your plan

We were slow adopters when it came to sunscreen. By the time broad-spectrum UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) protection was available in the late 1990s/early 2000s, plenty of damage had already been done. Preventing more damage is crucial — and possible. “It’s never too late to start,” Zeichner says. “If you’re a glass of water that’s 80 percent full, you can still prevent the glass from overflowing by not adding any more water to it.” Upgrade your strategy this spring to include a broad-brimmed hat to protect your scalp, ears and the back of your neck like the L.L. Bean Women’s Sunday Afternoons Havana Hat in Tan ($34, llbean.com). And be sure to wear sunglasses with 100 percent UV like the Privé Revaux The Commando 2.0 Polarized in Caviar Black ($40, priverevaux.com) and a long-sleeve everyday top or cardigan with a UPF sun protection rating like the Coolibar Women’s Marietas Sun Wrap UPF 50 in Grey & White Stripe or Warm Angelica (bright pink; $79, coolibar.com) even before beach season begins. A wrap is handy for outdoor weddings and barbecues, too.

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A Guide to Better Skin After 50

Have healthy looking skin at any age  

Tips, advice and resources

spinner image Mario Badescu Foaming Glycolic Cleanser; Kopari Beauty California Glow Enzyme Face Scrub; Cetaphil Extra Gentle Facial Scrub
(Left to right) Mario Badescu Foaming Glycolic Cleanser; Kopari Beauty California Glow Enzyme Face Scrub; Cetaphil Extra Gentle Facial Scrub
Ulta Beauty (2); CVS

3. Exfoliate once or twice a week

It is crucial to get those dead cells moving. “One of the things that makes uneven skin texture and brown spots look even worse is the backup of dead cells on the surface that interfere with light reflection,” says Zeichner. Not only does this contribute to dull, lackluster skin, but it prevents serums and creams from penetrating and doing their best work. Mature skin is thin and often sensitive, so buff gently — just enough to expose the fresher skin beneath. (Think: dusting a table rather than scrubbing a floor.) Zeichner suggests “a chemical exfoliator cleanser with glycolic acid to dissolve the glue-like connections between surface cells so they can be shed more easily.” Try a product like Mario Badescu Foaming Glycolic Cleanser ($16, ulta.com). If you’re sensitive to AHAs like glycolic acid, opt for a cleanser with mild microfine particles like Cetaphil Extra Gentle Facial Scrub ($12, cvs.com) or one that contains fruit enzymes like Kopari Beauty California Glow Enzyme Face Scrub ($28, ulta.com) to do the job.

spinner image Boots Ingredients Hyaluronic Sleep Mask; Truly Goodnight Moon Chest/Neck Sleep Mask; e.l.f. Holy Hydration! Sleeping Mask
(Left to right) Boots Ingredients Hyaluronic Sleep Mask; Truly Goodnight Moon Chest/Neck Sleep Mask; E.l.f. Holy Hydration! Sleeping Mask
Target; Ulta Beauty; Target

4. Treat your neck and chest as part of your face

One spring day you wake up, pull on your favorite V- or scoop-neck tee and gasp, “What happened to my chest?” That once-smooth and show-off-worthy décolletage is peppered with spots and wrinkles. Uh-oh. Even those of us who have been diligent about facial sunscreen often skip these hot spots. There’s double trouble for those who sleep on their side or stomach, since this causes an already sun-damaged neck and chest area to appear more creased and crepey. The solution? What’s good for your face is also great for your neck and chest. Start extending face products like serums, hydrating masks, moisturizers and SPF sunscreen right down to your bra line instead of including this area as part of body care. Try smoothing on a hyaluronic-acid-packed mask like Boots Ingredients Hyaluronic Sleep Mask ($6, target.com), E.l.f. Holy Hydration! Sleeping Mask ($10, target.com) or Truly Goodnight Moon Chest/Neck Sleep Mask ($25, ulta.com) for an overnight hydration boost that plumps up lines and creases.

spinner image CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream; Olay Regenerist Collagen Peptide 24 Face Moisturizer; Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Cream Fragrance-Free
(Clockwise from top left) CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream; Olay Regenerist Collagen Peptide 24 Face Moisturizer; Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Cream Fragrance-Free
CVS; Target; CVS

5. Reboot your skin with retinol or peptides

Retinol is a vitamin A derivative famous for its ability to reverse sun damage, rev up collagen production and smooth wrinkles. Even guys who don’t like the idea of fussing with beauty products can get into this overnight skin rehab by smoothing on a fragrance-free product like Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Cream Fragrance-Free ($31, cvs.com). However, for some of us even buffered retinol creams can have a getting-to-know-you period of irritation. “Apply it every other night for the first few weeks,” advises Zeichner. Still sensitive? He suggests using a peptide cream instead, like Olay Regenerist Collagen Peptide 24 Face Moisturizer ($30, target.com) or CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream ($20, cvs.com) “to rev up collagen production and improve the look of wrinkles.”

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spinner image Curel Moisture Repair Eye Cream; Burt’s Bees Illuminating Eye Balm; Pacifica Glow Baby Eye Bright Cream
(Left to right) Curel Moisture Repair Eye Cream; Burt’s Bees Illuminating Eye Balm; Pacifica Glow Baby Eye Bright Cream
Ulta Beauty; Target (2)

6. Start using an eye cream

The skin on lids and surrounding the eyes is another often neglected damage spot. UV radiation can contribute to macular degenerationcataracts and eyelid skin cancers on the health front, and crepey, droopy lids and dark shadows on the vanity one. Lackluster eyes are also a dead giveaway for any fatigue or stress. Keep this area looking awake and fresh with a targeted cream, balm or gel like Curel Moisture Repair Eye Cream for him or her ($32, ulta.com) and Burt’s Bees Illuminating Eye Balm ($15, target.com) or Pacifica Glow Baby Eye Bright Cream ($16, target.com) — both with vitamin C to help brighten discolorations. Pat on the under-eye area in an arc from inner to outer corner using your ring finger for a gentler touch, and stash your eye treatment in the fridge. The chill helps deflate any puffiness and soothes redness. And about that sun, wearing eye makeup does not protect you. Put on those sunglasses, people!

spinner image Crest 3D Whitestrips Sensitive At-home Teeth Whitening Kit; Clinique Pop Reds in Red-y to Wear; Maybelline Color Sensational Made For All Lipstick in 379 Fuchsia for Me
(Left to right) Crest 3D Whitestrips Sensitive At-home Teeth Whitening Kit; Clinique Pop Reds in Red-y to Wear; Maybelline Color Sensational Made For All Lipstick in 379 Fuchsia for Me
CVS; Ulta Beauty; Target

7. Brighten your teeth, lips and tops

Now for a beauty/fashion tip that always works. A pearlier grin, brighter lipstick and any white top are a perfect trifecta and a simple antidote to dingy, sun-damaged skin. Think of them as spotlights that add flashes of illumination to your face and divert attention from discolorations. Start by minimizing tooth stains with a DIY regimen like the Crest 3D Whitestrips Sensitive At-home Teeth Whitening Kit ($46, cvs.com), though a pro hygienist cleansing at your dentist can push dingy choppers back on track fast. Opt for a blue-based lipstick in a rosy, red, pink or berry hue like the Clinique Pop Reds in Red-y to Wear ($20, ulta.com) or Maybelline Color Sensational Made For All Lipstick in 379 Fuchsia for Me ($7, target.com). Cool shades counteract yellow or gray stains and perk up your smile (if you drink red wine, coffee or love blueberries, this is your jam). Slip on any white tee, blouse or shirt for a final touch of radiance. Done!

spinner image NYX Professional Makeup Plump Right Back Plumping Primer (left); Smashbox Photo Finish Primerizer + Hydrating Primer; Kevyn Aucoin Beauty Foundation Balm & Brush; L’Oreal Age Perfect 4-in-1 Tinted Face Balm Foundation
NYX Professional Makeup Plump Right Back Plumping Primer (left); Smashbox Photo Finish Primerizer + Hydrating Primer (middle left); Kevyn Aucoin Beauty Foundation Balm & Brush (top right); L’Oréal Age Perfect 4-in-1 Tinted Face Balm Foundation (bottom right)
Target (2); Nordstrom; CVS

8. Let makeup and primers fake an even look

Discoloration from sun damage and bumpy texture are the real reason many women 50-plus opt for full-coverage foundation and extra concealer. But here’s the thing: A full face of foundation and heavy camouflage get cakey fast and exaggerate everything instead of hiding it. Instead, try starting your makeup routine with a hyaluronic-acid-enhanced primer like NYX Professional Makeup Plump Right Back Plumping Primer ($17, target.com) or Smashbox Photo Finish Primerizer + Hydrating Primer ($39, target.com). They work like shapewear to smooth the surface. Follow that with a BB or CC cream or a light but buildable makeup balm like the Kevyn Aucoin Beauty Foundation Balm & Brush ($52, nordstrom.com) or L’Oréal Age Perfect 4-in-1 Tinted Face Balm Foundation ($18, cvs.com) that melts with your skin tone and texture as it blurs (rather than blanks out) brown spots, redness, broken capillaries and wrinkles for believable healthier-looking skin. These products even work over stubborn, hard-to-deal-with precancerous growths, known as actinic keratoses (my personal issue), without sticking to the dry, raised areas.

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spinner image Tanologist Self-Tanner Drops for Face + Body; Sol by Jergens Deeper by the Drop Face + Body Serum Tanning Drops; St. Moritz Radiant Glow Tan Boosting Facial Serum
(Left to right) Tanologist Self-Tanner Drops for Face + Body; Sol by Jergens Deeper by the Drop Face + Body Serum Tanning Drops; St. Moritz Radiant Glow Tan Boosting Facial Serum
Target (3)

9. Do a subtle self-tan

If you still crave a sun-kissed look (and let’s be honest, some of us do), self-tanner is one way to get it while giving sun-distressed skin a more uniform appearance. The active ingredient in self-tanners, DHA (dihydroxyacetone), reacts with the amino acids in the top layer of your skin to create a tan. That said, the key here is going for a low-contrast glow that blurs all together rather than faking an unrealistic shade. Tanning drops like the Tanologist Self-Tanner Drops for Face + Body ($20, target.com), Sol by Jergens Deeper by the Drop Face + Body Serum Tanning Drops ($20, target.com) or St. Moritz Radiant Glow Tan Boosting Facial Serum ($19, target.com) are a simple solution that allows you to control and customize the tint. All you do is add a few drops to your face or body moisturizer. Be sure to exfoliate and moisturize before applying self-tanner, and slather on that SPF 30+ daily for protection, too.

spinner image Vita Liberata Body Blur Instant HD Skin Finish; Bondi Sands Glo Matte Cream One Day Tan; Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Body Sauce Body Luminizing Tint
(Left to right) Vita Liberata Body Blur Instant HD Skin Finish; Bondi Sands Glo Matte Cream One Day Tan; Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Body Sauce Body Luminizing Tint
Walmart; Target; Sephora

10. Diffuse legs with makeup

One of the pet spring peeves of women 50-plus with sun damage is the spotty, veiny state of our legs. For many, this can make going bare-legged an issue and limit clothing choices to pants or midi-length skirts and dresses. For a way out of this dilemma without going the self-tanner route, try a water- and sweat-resistant makeup like the Vita Liberata Body Blur Instant HD Skin Finish ($35, walmart.com), Bondi Sands Glo Matte Cream One Day Tan ($14, target.com) or Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Body Sauce Body Luminizing Tint ($49, sephora.com) that tint legs like a BB cream to blend and blur all issues. These products are much easier to use than total coverage makeup, and the results are more authentic-looking when you compare legs to other exposed skin, such as arms and décolletage (though they work on these areas too). Plus, you can wash them off at night.

spinner image Assorted fruits vegetables fish and nuts
bit245/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

11. Eat healthier

Sorry folks, but skin care gummies and collagen drinks are not the answer. Your daily diet influences the appearance of sun-damaged skin more than any supplement can. So, lay off the sugar and processed carbs and get into eating a variety of colorful, healthy foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, antioxidants and vitamins. They’ll help your skin fight off free radicals, increase collagen growth, reinforce the protective barrier layer to improve sagging and elasticity, and reduce inflammation. On the most-wanted list: salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds and sardines, which are rich in omega-3s; avocados and olive oil, which are rich in healthy fats; and vibrant fruits and veggies like blueberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, oranges and lemons, which are powered by vitamins and antioxidants. And don’t forget a bite of dark chocolate — that sweet touch can help reduce inflammation and the appearance of wrinkles, too.

spinner image Foreo Bear Mini and NuFace Mini Facial Toning Device
Foreo Bear Mini (left) and NuFace Mini Facial Toning Device
Ulta Beauty; Sephora

12. Splurge on an at-home micro-current device

Surprised? I was, too, but these trendy gadgets are getting rave reviews on TikTok. “With age and cumulative sun exposure, the collagen and elastin fibers that support your skin weaken, causing the skin to sag,” says Zeichner. “At-home micro-current devices emit low-level electrical energy to help boost skin-cell activity. Results are modest but certainly help with continued use over several months.” Hmmm. While they’re pricey, you could consider trying a mini version like the Foreo Bear Mini ($199, ulta.com) or NuFace Mini Facial Toning Device ($209, sephora.com). “At-home devices and more in-office procedures are worth it,” adds Zeichner. “Compare at-home skin care to going to the gym and in-office procedures to getting a personal trainer. It’s the next level of self-care.” Certain medical conditions may rule out these micro current devices for you, so please ask your doctor before splurging on one.

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