It's not only wrinkles that make your skin look older — it's the uneven pigment caused by sun damage. Fortunately, a new generation of skin-lightening creams can make your skin glow.
At 39, Jennifer Poulin began seeing the signs of sun damage. "I'm very fairskinned, and I've had a lot of sun damage from over the years," says Poulin, who began using tanning beds in her early 20s. After spending money on treatments at the dermatologist's office and over-the-counter and prescription bleaching products, she discovered an easier, more gentle approach in cosmeceutical brightening creams, which include brands like Perle, Elure and Lumixyl. The brands are available in doctors' offices or online at sites like Amazon.com.
"I've been using the Perle for about nine weeks now, and it really has taken those spots down to a minimum," Poulin says. "Now that I don't even notice them I will go out without makeup on."
For years, doctors have used prescription levels of hydroquinone to lighten and even out skin pigmentation, but for some people, that treatment can be harsh and can't be used continuously.
"There are people who can not use hydroquinone. ... What people are excited about is these (cosmeceuticals) are so well tolerated," says dermatologist Dr. Mary Lupo.
These skin-lightening products can be used with prescription retinoids, which are the best means of erasing wrinkles. But some people don't like retinoids because they can make skin flaky. When retinoids are used in conjunction with skin brighteners, however, skin is less likely to become dry.
"Your skin gets a dewiness and a luminosity and an overall rejuvenation," Lupo says.
"People have been coming up to me recently and asking me, 'What's that foundation?' or 'What's that base?'" Poulin says. "It's really the same makeup that I've been wearing for years."
People who have been diligent about wearing sunscreen and hats can benefit from brightening creams, even if they don't have sun spots. "(The creams) seem to help texture and ... other aspects of photo-aging," Lupo says. "The overall luminosity of the skin improves and the patient reports brighter skin and a softer, smoother texture."
Facial pigmentation can come from sun damage, or it can be a result of inflammatory conditions like acne, says Metairie dermatologist Dr. Patricia Farris, spokeswoman for the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Unfortunately, cosmeceuticals won't help melasma, a hormonal and hereditary form of pigmentation, Lupo says. "It's a much more severe form of pigmentation and requires very aggressive, vigilant treatment that has to be maintained for a number of years."
For Poulin and her friend and neighbor Nikki Aucoin, who also uses Perle, sun exposure and tanning beds caused their skin to change. Doctors say as long as people still believe a tan is beautiful, there will be skin problems later.
"All you have to do is look at an area that you never expose to the sun. ... That skin is smoother and more uniform in color and without age spots or sun spots," Lupo says. "Age has nothing to do with it. It's only age in the sense that you've had cumulative sun damage over the years.
"I have seen age spots, which are really sun spots, in 25-year-olds and I have seen 65-year-olds with not a sun spot to be had. So it really depends on the amount of cumulative sun exposure you get."
Poulin has taken this knowledge to heart. "I started going outside with the 70 (SPF) sunscreen on and a big hat, and I don't sunbathe any more," Poulin says.
"Now I am ... a big fan of spray tans," Aucoin says.
Dr. Patricia is no relation to Medical Reporter Meg Farris.