Updated 08/24/21. This is a picture of me that I took a few months ago. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Renée is an esthetician, yet she has a sunburn?” Well, not quite. The truth is that I haven’t had a sunburn in many, many years. I’m very conscious of sun exposure, and I never go out into the sun without layering on sunscreen using my special application technique. I also usually wear sun-protective clothing when I know I’ll be outside for long periods of time. So, what’s this all about, then? What you’re seeing isn’t a current sunburn; rather, it’s damage from a really bad sunburn I had when I was 19 years old. This is nothing but a “flare-up” that appears every now and then when I get overheated in the shower. Let me explain.
Why It Looks Like I Have a Sunburn When I Really Don’t
When skin becomes sunburned, blood flow increases in the capillaries of the skin. When I got that bad sunburn all those years ago, it actually weakened the capillary walls in my skin. With age (I just celebrated my 52nd birthday—check out my best skin secrets), my capillaries will continue to weaken. There’s been a loss of collagen and a deterioration of the skin’s structure. All of this combined causes my skin to “flare-up” easily. Add in the fact that the sunburn happened on my chest, which is an area in which the skin is naturally thin, and the damage becomes easily visible.
For many people, years of continuous sun exposure give them year-round redness (and brown discoloration, too). My redness only flares up every once in a while when I’m particularly stressed because my blood pressure increases. This time, though, it was even more apparent because it was combined with the heat from a shower. Heat causes the capillaries to dilate and increase blood flow, which gives the appearance of redness in damaged areas. Even though the discoloration usually goes away within 30 minutes or so, I’m always amazed that you can still see my exact bathing suit lines. It’s crazy, isn’t it?
It just goes to show how one sunburn, even if it’s incurred at a young age, can come back as visible sun damage years later. To all my young readers, take heed!
What Can I Do to Improve the Appearance of Sun Damage on My Neck and Chest?
If you have visible redness and brown discoloration on your neck and chest, don’t despair. There are a variety of ways you can address this.
1. At-Home Chemical Peels
Exfoliating at home is an easy way to improve the appearance of skin texture and brown pigment. You can use a product like the Dual Enzyme Softening Peel once a week. Unlike acids, enzymes are activated by water and work more slowly to digest cellular buildup, so apply it to clean, damp skin and leave it on for 15-20 minutes. Natural enzymes from papaya and pineapple will help fade discoloration and smooth away dry cells. If you happen to have a tube of a prescription retinoid at home, you can give yourself a more aggressive at-home chemical peel.
2. Professional Chemical Peels
Sunburns can lead to changes in the skin’s color and texture. They can even result in growths called actinic keratosis. This is a fancy name for crusty, raised bumps. These growths are normally non-cancerous, but they can get bigger with age and prove bothersome to many who have them. That’s where a professional chemical peel comes in. When you get a professional chemical peel from an esthetician, it can minimize the appearance of these bumps (as well as crepey skin). The peel can also help fade brown discoloration, which can lead to more even-toned skin.
One thing you should know is that not all professional chemical peels are the same. They come in various strengths, which is why it’s important to consult a trusted skin care professional to decide which one is best for you. It’s also important to know that chemical peels are more effective when completed in the fall and winter months, as the skin will not be exposed to as much sun.
3. Non-Steroid Cream
Dermatologists will often prescribe a non-steroid cream to manage the aforementioned skin growths known as actinic keratosis. Consult your dermatologist to find out if this is right for you.
Retinol is a well-researched and tried-and-true ingredient to use for anti-aging purposes. It’s also a go-to for sun-damaged skin. I recommend the Advanced Resurfacing Serum to all of my clients. When used regularly, it can visibly improve the look of the skin. I have a long history of working with retinol and retinoids (the prescription version). You can read all about that here.
You’ve probably heard that using retinol during the day is a huge no-no because it makes your skin more sensitive to the sun. This photosensitivity is actually a cumulative effect that occurs due to the fact that retinol increases cell turnover. This means that fresh, new skin cells are constantly being brought to the surface. These cells are more vulnerable to sun damage than dry, dead skin cells. This is why it’s so important to wear sunscreen every day when you’re using a retinol product—even if you’re only using that retinol product at night (I wear Weightless Protection SPF 30 every single day).
5. Topical Antioxidants
Topical antioxidants such as a vitamin C serum can, without a doubt, improve the look of brown pigmentation and create a more even-toned complexion. Vitamin C not only works to suppress melanin activity, but it can also prevent redness by keeping capillary walls strong. It can even help rebuild collagen, which is essential when caring for damaged skin.
Every morning, I apply the Vitamin C&E Treatment to my face, neck, and chest A few nights a week, I like to infuse antioxidants into my face, neck, and chest by using the Firm + Repair Overnight Serum. What makes this especially helpful for the skin on the neck and chest is that it uses peptides, which help support the skin’s structure and encourage firmness. It makes for some good beauty sleep.
6. Internal Antioxidants
Along with applying topical antioxidants daily, I take vitamin C with bioflavonoids every day to help keep my capillaries as strong as possible. This supplement is also helpful for anyone who is prone to rosacea. Read more about it, here.
It’s never too late to protect yourself from sun damage. In fact, it’s far easier and less expensive to protect yourself from damage than it is to address it after the fact. That’s why it’s so important to apply a generous amount of sunscreen to the neck and chest every day. As I said before, I like using Weightless Protection SPF 30. It’s a lightweight sunscreen that can work for all skin types. (On that note, make sure you know how much sunscreen you should really be applying.)
8. IPL Laser Treatments
IPL stands for Intense Pulsed Light. It’s also referred to as photorejuvenation or photo facials. These treatments are extremely effective for addressing brown pigment and may even help improve red capillary/blood vessel damage. They work through powerful flashes of light that emit energy that can penetrate below the skin’s surface. The heat breaks down pigment into tiny particles, which either rise to the surface as tiny scabs (falling off naturally within a week) or get carried away via the body’s lymphatic system.
IPL can improve redness, however, vascular lasers may deliver better results. A fractionated laser treatment known as Fraxel triggers the skin’s wound-healing response to stimulate collagen. The downside is that there is more healing time involved.
Note: Poikiloderma is a skin condition in which blood vessels and brown discoloration appear on the sides of the neck just below the ear in big patches. I actually have a minor case of this, so I get it zapped away with a photo facial a few times a year to make it less noticeable. As for the sun damage on my chest, it doesn’t flare up too often. It’s typically not something I pay much attention to, but writing this post reminds me that I really need to take better care of it!
9. Neck Cream
If you’re using neck cream, you’re creating an ideal environment of moisture and firming action, which can visibly improve the look of the neck and chest. Make no mistake—the key to having good skin is simply to give it plenty of tender loving care, and this includes the décolleté region. I have all of my clients use the Intensive Firming Neck Creme every night on their necks and chests. It’s formulated with peptides, which can help firm the skin, algae extract, which can help de-puff, and apple fruit extract, which can help promote healthy cellular renewal.
There you have it. These are 9 effective ways to address sun damage on the neck and chest. I hope you found this post helpful in your own quest to address sun damage! Before you move on, I have one more thing I want to talk about, and that’s skin cancer screenings. Regardless of how much time you spend in the sun, EVERYONE should get a yearly skin cancer screening with a dermatologist. I had my own skin cancer scare, so I know how important it is to keep tabs on this. It’s serious business.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”