Q: I spent too much time in the sun when I was younger, without sunscreen. Now my skin is paying the price. What's my best chance of repairing the damage, or at least stopping my skin from aging any faster?

A: The best way to lessen the appearance of skin aging is to protect it from the sun. To reduce further damage from sun exposure, apply sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 30 or higher year-round. Be sure to reapply frequently, since sunscreen can wash off when you swim or sweat.

Sun exposure not only increases the risk of skin cancer but it also causes photoaging, the most common cause of wrinkles and sagging of skin.

For the best care of your skin, use gentle products without fragrance. Use a mild, unscented cleanser for washing your face. And if you face is dry, use an unscented moisturizer.

Protect yourself from the sun not only with sunscreen but also with sun-protective clothing. There are many types of loose clothing that can be comfortable, as well as protective from the sun's rays.

Wear a hat, not a visor, when in the sun. An exposed scalp, whether from thinning hair or from a part in hair, is vulnerable to sun damage. And wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes.

Be sure to make sun protection a part of your daily skin care regimen to minimize further photoaging.

Most important, see your doctor immediately if there are any changes in a mole, or if you have a sore that does not heal. It's very important to perform a self-exam of your skin often so that you can look for skin changes.

There are many cosmetic procedures that can minimize the effects of sun damage and reduce the appearance of aging. These include:

--Light-based devices to reduce pigment changes (dark spots) and telangiectasis (tiny blood vessels) that result from sun exposure

--Certain laser devices can non-surgically tighten skin and minimize wrinkles

--Plastic surgery techniques can lift sagging skin, remove excess skin, and minimize wrinkles

--Facial peels and microdermabrasion can smooth the skin surface

--Botox and other injectables such as Restylane or Juvederm can help remove wrinkles

Consider making an appointment with a dermatologist or plastic surgeon to discuss these and other options to reduce the look of aging.

(Rebecca Campen, M.D., J.D., is an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School. She divides her time between clinical practice of dermatology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and private practice in Savannah, Ga.)

(For additional consumer health information, please visit http://www.health.harvard.edu.)