As summertime approaches, opportunities for outdoor activities increase. For many of our patients, summer inspires a desire to have aesthetic procedures in preparation for outdoor events, such as weddings and vacations. We must, however, be mindful that increased sun exposure after some aesthetic procedures can mean an increased risk of complications.
The main complication we worry about with sun exposure is, of course, hyperpigmentation. The risk is low with injectable procedures such as botulinum toxin and fillers, but sun protection is still encouraged, especially in skin types III-VI. The risk increases greatly with chemical peels and laser and light-based procedures, such as intense pulsed light, vascular lasers, pigment lasers, laser hair removal, and especially nonablative and ablative resurfacing (including nonlaser resurfacing such as dermabrasion).
Sun protection should be encouraged, even with seemingly less invasive procedures, such as electrodessication. I once had a patient with type-IV skin tell me at her first visit that, years before, she had electrodessication on her face for DPN (dermatosis papulosa nigra), a procedure she had done on several occasions without complications and great results. However, she went to a party on a boat the weekend after the procedure and developed hyperpigmentation at the procedure areas, and she still had a few dark macules several years later.
At a follow-up visit, she said the doctor told her she should not have gone out on the boat and should have worn sunscreen. Of course, she was highly upset that she wasn’t advised about sun protection at the time of the procedure. This is one of several stories I’ve heard or seen of complications and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation after an aesthetic procedure, when the patients felt that the treating physician or practitioner did not counsel them about sun exposure during the consultation or treatment visit. It seems intuitive, but I’ve made it a habit to make sun protection part of my counseling routine.
In my practice, we often give patients sunscreen to apply immediately after a procedure. Specifically encouraging the use of zinc- and/or titanium-based, broad-spectrum, noncomedogenic physical blockers that are SPF 30 or higher may help reduce the risk of potential irritation or allergy and subsequent postinflammatory pigmentary alteration from chemical blocking ingredients. We provide a postprocedure handout, and the medical assistant also will counsel about sun protection when applying it to the patient or reviewing postprocedure instructions. So the patient is counseled at least three times: By me during consultation or pre-procedure, by the medical assistant post procedure, and by written instructions.
Vigorous sun protection is encouraged for at least 1 week after any aesthetic procedure (and longer if the downtime is longer or if multiple treatments are required). Some practices also use antioxidant serums to reduce free radicals, encourage healing, and reduce the risk of hyperpigmentation after procedures. Wide-brimmed hats also are encouraged, particularly after resurfacing or photodynamic therapy (PDT). We give patients sun-protective hats when they leave our office after PDT. We counsel them to practice vigorous sun protection for at least 1 week and to avoid sitting by a window for 48 hours after the procedure so as to not reactivate the levulan.
Delaying more high-risk procedures, such as laser treatments, until after the summer months may be appropriate if sun cannot be avoided to mitigate the risk of complications. If a patient comes to the office for a laser procedure and is visibly more tan than at the time of the last treatment, I will counsel about risks, adjust the settings appropriately, or even delay the treatment altogether to a time when the tan has faded. This is particularly important for lasers and light treatments for which melanin is the target chromosphere, such as intense pulsed light and laser hair removal. Although UV exposure is more intense in the summer, in our practice in Southern California we follow these principles year-round for the safety of our patients.
Dr. Wesley and Dr. Talakoub are co-contributors to a monthly Aesthetic Dermatology column in Dermatology News. Dr. Talakoub is in private practice in McLean, Va. Dr. Wesley practices dermatology in Beverly Hills, Calif. This month’s column is by Dr. Wesley.