Ask the Expert: Do Cosmetic Dermatology Treatments Make Your Skin Sun Sensitive?

The Skin Cancer Foundation

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Q: Do cosmetic dermatology treatments (like chemical peels or lasers) make your skin sun sensitive?

Yes, any cosmetic treatment that purposefully exfoliates, punctures or otherwise damages the top or mid-layers of the skin will cause photosensitivity. These treatments include but are not limited to resurfacing lasers, microneedling devices and chemical peels. Since the new tissue revealed during these processes is more vulnerable to damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays, it’s recommended patients limit sun exposure until the skin regenerates completely. This can take four to eight weeks depending on the depth of the treatment. You’ll want to avoid unprotected sun exposure completely for one to two weeks.

During the recovery period, use a broad-spectrum physical sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 (chemical sunscreens may irritate already sensitive skin). Be sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours. The skin around the eyes is particularly sensitive, so I recommend wearing a wide-brimmed hat with full facial coverage and a full-framed pair of UV-blocking sunglasses. You should also try to limit your time outside during peak sunlight hours of 10 AM to 4 PM. Finally, avoid any products with ingredients that can further cause photosensitivity. These include retinoids, acids and even some ingredients to treat acne like benzoyl peroxide. Be sure to review your topical medications with your physician to see if they are safe to use in the post treatment period.

About the Expert

Elizabeth Goldberg, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Urban Dermatology in New York City. She also serves as an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and is a member of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and the Women’s Dermatologic Society.

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