Can You Erase Skin Damage?

Jennica Johnstone, 22, talks to MC's resident derm and psychiatrist, Dr. Wechsler, about tanning abuse and poison ivy. "Is there any way to erase the damage I've done from tanning?" —Jennica, Baltimore

Jeffrey Westbrooks
JJ: I tanned too much as a teenager but stopped because I didn't want to end up like my relatives who baked for years and look a lot older than they are. Is there any way I can erase the harm I've done?

I'm so glad you stopped tanning. Now remember to wear sunscreen and stay in the shade. Nothing will fully undo the damage, but you can start to correct it by using an OTC retinol cream or a prescription-strength retinoid, like Renova, at night. Both are forms of vitamin A. Retinoids strengthen the dermis and have been shown to prevent certain skin-cancer cells from forming.

JJ: Does fair skin age faster?

Unfortunately, yes. Darker skin has more melanin, a natural sun protection factor, so it won't show signs of aging as early as paler skin. And I have to ask if your scalp ever burns.

JJ: Yes — it looks terrible and hurts!

Many people forget to protect it. Try running a sunblock stick just along your part. I promise this won't mess up your hairstyle.

JJ: Great idea. As far as antiaging products go, I'm still in my early 20s. Do I need to start using them yet?

It all depends on how your skin has dealt with sun exposure and stress. An unprecedented number of women your age are buying antiagers, in part because of all the celebs who endorse them, but also because these women are burning the candle at both ends: working longer hours and partying after that. Their skin pays for the pace they keep.

JJ: I'll keep that in mind! One other thing — I'm highly allergic to poison ivy. Last summer, I had an outbreak on my legs that was so bad I was embarrassed to be in a bathing suit. Can I blame my fair skin for this?

Not necessarily. All skin types are sensitive to the toxin urushiol, which is found in poison ivy, oak, and sumac. It's also found in mango peels. So if you're eating the fruit and the peel touches your face, you could have a similar reaction.

JJ: I was told rashes spread if you scratch them. Is this true?

No, but urushiol does like to stick to things — like balls and pets.

JJ: Now I know why I've gotten reactions after walking my dog! What can I do to avoid scarring?

Soothe the skin as soon as possible. Try a whole-milk soak and a 1 percent hydrocortisone cream. If you're pressed for time, take a shower and change your clothes to reduce contact. If your reactions get any worse, see a dermatologist, who might prescribe a stronger steroid. And don't forget the sunscreen!


Clinique Sun-Care Lip/Eye Stick SPF 30, $16.50; Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment, $6.99 for eight packets; Cortizone-10 Maximum Strength Intensive Healing Formula, $9.49.

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