Actinic damage (or sun damage) is the change in the skin as a result of excessive, long term exposure to the sun. No, this is not due to your trip to Aruba last summer, but is probably from one too many stays at band camp without sunscreen in your teen years, the daily commute, the drives with the windows down, and multiple summers running around shirtless, you get it. Actinic damage is the term used for widespread changes of the skin in which it appears dry, scaly and red. The focal patches of particular scale and redness are called Actinic keratoses. These are considered pre-cancerous as they can progress and become squamous cell carcinomas. Ideally we catch them in this pre-cancerous stage as they are much easier to treat! Now this can usually be treated with liquid nitrogen at Absolute Dermatology, but when the damage is extensive… WE NEED TO PULL OUT THE BIG GUNS!!
What are the big guns you ask? Something that can be used to treat whole areas of the body (the WHOLE chest, face, scalp, anywhere you might not have kept covered up while outside at that band camp). EFUDEX (The brand name for 5-FU / 5-fluorouracil). Efudex is a chemotherapy cream that targets abnormally dividing cells and treats background sun damage, even sometimes those we can not see with the naked eye.
Efudex is typically applied twice daily to the affected area for two weeks. Now I know this sounds like a walk in the park, but I beg to differ. As the efudex targets these dangerous cells, they die and result in redness and scabbing and occasionally burning, painful sites with potential for swelling and tenderness to the area. This is NOT an allergic reaction, but rather the way we know it's working! The worse you look during treatment, the better the results afterwards! No pain, no gain, right?
The good news is that this does not last forever and there are some tips and tricks to help with the discomfort. We recommend applying vaseline/ aquaphor or over the counter hydrocortisone to esepcially inflamed areas during and after treatment. And you gotta stay out of the sun. Duh, you say after reading this post, but really, Efudex will make you more sensitive to the sun, so lather on the zinc-based SPF on sites being treated. This is why we typically treat with Efudex during the cooler months. You know, so you're not sweating all over your irritated skin while you're outside in your tank top exposing the actinic damage we trying to get rid of.
But trust us, all of this work is worth it! It really works! So, visit Absolute Dermatology to get your skin checked out, and if needed, start your efudex. Because, 'tis the season!