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Sun Damage

Sun damage is a broad term that covers a range of skin conditions and visible aging that occurs due to unprotected sun exposure. While most people associated ultraviolet (UV) damage with frequent sunburns or excessive tanning, sun damage can occur with moderate, unprotected UV exposure over time. A light tan, for example, caused by time in the sun or tanning beds can cause UV damage and lead to premature aging, skin cancer, and other skin concerns.

At the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of Indiana, our expert dermatology providers diagnose and treat all types of sun damage, from light sunburns to melanoma and everything in between.

Types of Sun Damage

Any change in the pigment of your skin following unprotected UV exposure is classified as sun damage. Darkening of the skin, even if it’s mild freckling or a light tan, are sun damage. UV exposure can cause something as mild as premature aging and uneven skin tone, or it can cause precancerous lesions and skin cancer.

freckles are sun damageSkin Pigmentation: Uneven Skin Tone & Tanning

The first sign of UV skin damage is a change in skin color following sun exposure without adequate protection. While most people think of sunburns, UV damage can also present as:

  • New freckles or moles
  • Darkening freckles or moles
  • Tanning
  • Hyperpigmentation and melasma


Of course, if you have a sunburn, especially a blistering sunburn, the sun damage is more immediate and should be examined by a board-certified dermatologist for treatment. A single blistering sunburn in childhood doubles your skin cancer risk as an adult.

Freckles and Moles

Freckles and moles are common, especially among fair skinned individuals. While these spots may appear cute or precious, they are UV damage and should be prevented and evaluated by a dermatologist. If you have freckles and moles, yearly skin checks are an essential part of your healthcare. Patients with red hair and/or blue eyes tend to be more susceptible to sun damage and skin cancer.


All tans are sun damage. “Base tans” are not a thing and won’t protect you from sunburns or additional sun damage. It doesn’t matter how dark the tan is; it’s all UV damage. Lying outside to tan, lying in a tanning bed, using UV lamps, or using tanning oils all cause sun damage, precancerous growths, and skin cancer. They also lead to premature wrinkles.

Hyperpigmentation and Melasma

For some people, skin darkening is less predictable and causes uneven skin tone. This goes beyond freckling and tanning and causes patches of darker skin called hyperpigmentation or melasma. For most people, this is a cosmetic concern. However, all UV damage increases the risk of developing skin cancer. We cannot mention that enough.

Premature Aging: Fine Lines & Wrinkles Caused by Sun Damage

Do you remember the tanning mom? While she’s an extreme example of the type of premature aging that tanning can cause, tanning causes wrinkles. If you spent your teens and twenties tanning or simply not protecting your skin from UV rays, premature wrinkles and lines are in your future. This is because long term, gradual UV exposure breaks down the collagen and elastin faster. Of course, more aggressive tanning does this much quicker and dramatically increases your risk for skin cancer.


While skin darkening caused by unprotected UV exposure is sun damage, some skin changes cause more immediate dangers than others. Some moles and skin spots can be diagnosed as precancerous, meaning they are very likely to become cancerous in the near future. One example of this is actinic keratosis.

Skin Cancer

All sun damage increases your risk of developing skin cancer. If you have UV damage of any kind, you should be evaluated by a board-certified dermatologic surgeon yearly; some patients should be seen more frequently, as determined by your dermatologist.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States; it’s also the most treatable. Skin cancer is easier to diagnose and treat, as it can be found more easily when it’s still small and manageable. Some skin cancers are more aggressive than others; catching your skin cancer early is the best way to ensure you make a full recovery.


Melanoma is the most dangerous and well-known type of skin cancer as it’s the most aggressive and spreads to other parts of the body more rapidly. Still, with frequent skin checks with your dermatologist, melanoma can be diagnosed and treated before it spreads.

What to Expect During Your Dermatology Appointment

Skin Evaluation

Yearly skin checks are recommended for all patients, regardless of UV exposure history. However, these are recommended at minimum for all patients who have a history of sunburns, blistering sunburns, tanning, and other sun damage.

If you notice any new spots or changes in skin spots in between appointments, make an appointment right away for another check. You do not have to wait until your next yearly appointment.

For your skin checks, you will be asked to change into a medical gown so that we can view your skin more clearly. Once you’re in the gown, a dermatology provider will ask you if you have any specific spots on your body that concern you.

Your dermatologist will check your skin from head-to-toe, including your scalp, shoulders, arms, hands, back, calves, and tops of your feet; these are the most vulnerable areas. Your dermatologist may also take photos of certain spots to better check for changes during your next check. They may also use a magnifying glass in order to better see details on some spots.

Diagnosing Sun Damage

Even if you don’t have skin cancer or precancerous lesions, you may want to treat your sun damage to improve the look and feel of your skin. By reversing UV skin damage, you also replace the damaged skin with fresh, healthy skin, reducing your risk for developing skin cancer.

You don’t need a diagnosis for sun damage to treat premature aging or hyperpigmentation. However, it’s recommended that you see a board-certified dermatologic surgeon for cosmetic remedies for these skin conditions; this ensures that your medical history is shared with your cosmetic provider.

Why Choose the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of Indiana for the Treatment of Sun Damage?

Unlike medical spas that treat sun damage in Indiana, the LASSI is led by board-certified dermatologic surgeon Dr. C. William Hanke. By coming to the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of Indiana, you guarantee that your skin is treated by an expert dermatology provider who is familiar with your medical skin history, including precancer and skin cancer diagnosis and treatment.

In addition to providing treatments to reverse UV skin damage in our Indianapolis dermatology practice, Dr. Hanke and our team have led clinical research trials for skin cancer, precancers, and sun damage. Dr. Hanke is recognized as a leader in dermatology and has held numerous board positions, including as past president of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS), and the American College of Mohs Surgery (ACMS). He also served as the Senior VP of the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Treatments for Sun Damage in Indianapolis at the LASSI

If your UV damage is not diagnosed as cancer or precancer, non-surgical cosmetic treatments will be recommended to reverse the signs of premature aging and uneven skin tone. Our dermatology providers may recommend one or more of the following:

Chemical Peels for Sun Damage

Chemical peels, often applied following a facial, targets the top layer of skin to speed up cellular turnover. This causes the top layer of skin to peel away, revealing fresh, healthy skin. This reduces fine lines and wrinkles as well as hyperpigmentation.

HydraFacial for Sun Damage

Hydradermabrasion is water-powered microdermabrasion, a gentler solution to facial rejuvenation and cleansing. We use HydraFacial, which combines a facial, microdermabrasion, and chemical peel all in one convenient, gentle treatment. One formulation used in the Hydrafacial helps reduce the signs of hyperpigmentation, melasma, fine lines, and wrinkles.

Microneedling, AKA Collagen Induction Therapy

Microneedling creates micro-injuries to the skin, stimulating collagen and elastin production for rapid healing and cellular turnover. It also allows skin healing ingredients to penetrate the skin more deeply. This helps reverse the signs of sun damage more rapidly, including brown spots and fine lines.

Photorejuvenation for Sun Damage

Forever Young BBL (broadband light) and Blue-U photodynamic therapy can both be used to reverse UV skin damage, evening out skin tone and reducing the appearance of fine lines.

If we diagnose your sun damage as skin cancer, Mohs Surgery and other skin cancer treatments are offered by board-certified dermatologic surgeon Dr. C. William Hanke. We also offer Blu-U with Levulan, a non-surgical photodynamic therapy treatment which can treat sun damage, pre-cancer, and even some types of skin cancer.

Laser Skin Resurfacing Treatments

Laser skin resurfacing comes in many varieties; for sun damage reversal, we use a CO2 laser for laser skin resurfacing. This will take care of all types of sun damage, including hyperpigmentation, freckles, fine lines, and wrinkles.

For a less aggressive approach to minor sun damage, we may recommend a Clear+Brilliant laser treatment instead of a more aggressive laser skin resurfacing procedure. Clear+Brilliant is also wonderful to maintain your youthful results and glow following a CO2 laser resurfacing treatment. It’s a gentle laser that’s popular with celebrities who cannot afford the downtime of a more aggressive laser but want the results only a laser can achieve.

Sun Damage FAQs

Below you will find the most common questions and answers about skin damage caused by UV exposure. If you have more questions that aren’t included below, please call our practice to speak with our staff and schedule a consultation with one of our dermatology providers.

Does a tan protect you from sunburns and skin damage?

No. There is no such thing as a “base tan.” Tans will not protect you from sunburns or skin cancer.

Are suntans healthy?

Yes. All tans are skin damage. Any darkening of the skin caused by UV exposure is sun damage.

How do I protect my skin?

Limit UV exposure and try to avoid being outdoors during peak times. Always wear sunscreen, whether you’re outside or near a window. This includes driving or sitting next to a window during the day. Reapply sunscreen every 60-80 minutes; reapply more often if you’re sweating or engaged in water play. If you spend a lot of time outside, we recommend clothing, hats, and umbrellas that are made of UV-protective material.

For more UV protection tips, contact our staff or discuss your options during your next appointment.

What time of day do you no longer need sunscreen?

Assume that sunscreen is needed unless the sun has completely set.

How often should sunscreen be reapplied?

Reapply sunscreen every 60-80 minutes or more frequently if you’re sweating or engaging in water play.

What should I look for when choosing a sunscreen?

There are many considerations for choosing a sunscreen. We recommend you take a moment to read our sunscreen buying guide on our blog: How to Choose the Best Sunscreen.

Is sunscreen toxic?

Sunscreen is not toxic. It’s important, however, to choose a sunscreen that is right for you and doesn’t contain ingredients that you may be allergic or sensitive to. Speak with your child’s pediatrician before selecting a sunscreen as well.

Can indirect sunlight hurt skin?

Yes. In fact, UV rays can be amplified by water, glass, and snow. This increases UV exposure and the risk of sun damage.

How can I tan without damaging my skin?

No tan is safe unless it comes from a bottle. If you want a little bronze tint to your complexion, try spray tans, tanning lotions, or bronzers. Make sure you select one that doesn’t contain any ingredients that may cause an allergic reaction.

Can sun damage go away on its own?

If you’ve ever had a sunburn, the burn fades and the skin peels on its own much of the time. Tans also fade. However, the skin is still damaged and should be checked by a board-certified dermatologist.

What happens if you don’t get enough sun? How do you balance healthy UV exposure and sun protection to prevent UV damage?

Fresh air, water, and sunshine are necessary for a healthy life. Many patients point to Vitamin D as a reason for not wearing sunscreen, as the body synthesizes Vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sun. It is important, however, to wear sunscreen and hats if you plan on being in the sun for more than 15 minutes.

Most physicians recommend taking a Vitamin D supplement and focusing on wearing sunscreen and UV protective clothing if you are/have had:

  • Prone to sunburns, freckling, and other UV damage
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • A personal history of skin cancer or precancerous lesions
  • Being treated for skin damage
  • Using home products to reverse UV damage

If you’re concerned about Vitamin D deficiency, it’s best to speak with your doctor or a dermatologist about your options.

What is the best treatment for sun damaged skin?

We will recommend treatments based on a skin evaluation. We may recommend one or more treatments and home care products to help reverse damage and protect your skin from further sun exposure and damage.

Does all sun damage turn into skin cancer?

No. UV damage does not inevitably turn into cancer. However, it can increase your skin cancer risk.

If I reverse sun damage, can I still get skin cancer?

Yes. Reversing UV skin damage doesn’t guarantee that skin cancer will not develop later in life. This is especially true if you don’t take preventative measures to avoid further damage.

Visit the LASSI to Reverse Sun Damage in Indiana

Are you ready to reverse visible sun damage? Are you concerned about your skin cancer risk due to the UV skin damage you’ve accumulated over the years? Schedule a consultation with dermatologist C. William Hanke, MD at the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of Indiana today.