If you regularly fell victim to sunburn as a child, teen or young adult, the effects of those burns are cumulative and will eventually become physically evident as damage to your skin. This damage manifests as premature wrinkles and fine lines, age spots, skin cancers and loss of elasticity.
Microscopic changes can occur in skin cells within 30 minutes of sun exposure. It's an undisputed fact that UV light rays cause genetic mutation in skin cells, leading to skin cancer. Protecting your skin with a high SPF sunscreen or complete sunblock is a necessity, particularly if you live at high altitudes, in sunbelt areas, have a family history of skin cancer, or are taking certain medications. Individuals with light skin and eyes should be especially careful to use adequate sun protection as they are prone to developing cutaneous melanoma, a type of skin cancer which metastasizes rapidly due to its burrowing growth pattern.
If your skin is already showing wear and tear due to overzealous sun exposure, there are botanicals which can minimize or repair some of the existing damage. Essential oils known to improve appearance of damaged skin are carrot seed (Daucus carota), frankincense (Boswellia carterii and other ssp.), helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum), rose (Rosa damascena or R. centifolia), lavender (Lavandula augustifolia), and geranium (Pelargonium x asperum).
Carrot seed oil is a favorite of mine, as it possesses cytophilactic properties and is especially nourishing to mature skin. Dr. Jane Buckle has been involved in several small scale studies using frankincense to minimize or prevent fine wrinkles, and Boswellia extract is now used in a number of high end anti-aging cosmetics. Sandalwood is particularly known for lightening and evening out dark skin pigmentation, although I am very much opposed to its use (The Mythology of Sandalwood, November 12, 2008 post). Rosehip seed oil, a vegetable carrier, has cytophilactic properties which make it an excellent base for blending these healing essential oils.
Some Canadian aromatherapists have noted that Greenland moss (Ledum groenlandicum), a native Canadian essential oil, can be effective on some types of skin cancer. However, I have not seen any specific studies referenced to back up this claim.
Ultimately, an ounce of sun protection is worth a pound of cure. But whatever your past, help is as near as a bottle of essential oil.
Buckle, Jane. (1997). Clinical Aromatherapy in Nursing. London: Arnold.
Cooksley, Valerie. (17 June 2009). Cancer Prevention: A Holistic Nurse Aromatherapist's Perspective. Presentation to Alliance of International Aromatherapists. Denver, CO.
Shier, David; Butler, Jackie; Lewis, Ricki. (1997). Hole's Human Anatomy and Physiology, 11th Ed. McGraw Hill: New York.