Q&A with Dr. Sue Ellen Cox: How to Prevent and Treat Sun-Damaged Skin

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Dr. Sue Ellen Cox is a board-certified dermatologic surgeon, founder and medical director of Aesthetic Solutions in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Dr. Cox runs an active clinical research center, and has performed clinical trials and pivotal studies on most neuromodulators and fillers on the market today. An author of more than 90 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, she serves on committees and boards for the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, the American Academy of Dermatology and various pharmaceutical and device manufacturers. When she isn’t lecturing internationally or directing national workshops, Dr. Cox teaches cosmetic dermatology clinic to residents at the UNC School of Medicine and Duke University Medical Center. Dr. Cox is the current president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

Dr. Sue Ellen Cox of Aesthetic Solutions

Q: Sun damage is a very common concern living in the South. What should folks considering treatment for sun damage know?

A: For patients dealing with sun damage or uneven skin tone, it’s helpful to understand the underlying cause. When we are exposed to UV radiation, our skin increases melanin production as a mechanism to defend itself. This can be diffuse, or be irregular and present in smaller, uneven dark spots. We get UV exposure everyday – indoor, outdoor, rain or shine. I like to set the expectation that aesthetic treatments don’t stop the clock. We continue to age, we spend time outdoors or on our devices, and even overhead lights can contribute to photoaging. There is no “one and done” treatment – but routine treatments and proper at home care can keep sun damage at bay.

Q: What are some at-home things we can do to prevent sun damage?

A: I tell my patients the most important step in any aesthetic plan is a good, medical-grade SPF every day. Look for something that contains Zinc or Titanium. Medical-grade products, available through physicians’ offices and in some cases online, have higher percentages of more stable ingredients than what you can find over the counter. A good vitamin C and vitamin A product in addition to SPF will help prevent sun damage. In addition to topicals, wear a wide brimmed hat when you are outdoors. Sun protective clothing is a great option, and has come a long way in recent years!

Q: What in-office treatments do you use for sun damage?

A: Typically, a combination of lasers and topicals work best for sun damage. The exact device is determined in a consultation. We try to find the treatment that fits best with a patient’s lifestyle, goals and expectations. Other factors to consider when crafting a treatment plan are contraindications, available downtime, budget, number of sessions needed and pre/ post care. The Fraxel, Clear Brilliant and Alexandrite laser are a few of our go-to treatments – among many others.

Q: How does Aesthetic Solutions work with new patients to set them up for success?

A: With so many non-surgical options out there, I often meet patients who are suffering from information overload. The most important thing for new patients is an initial consultation that focuses on concerns rather than treatments. You don’t need a chemical peel – you need options for treating sun damage and solutions to prevent it from coming back. A thorough consultation will set the stage for personalized solutions to address your specific concerns.

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