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Can You Actually Get Rid Of Sun Spots on Skin?

Shine some light on those dark spots.

September 22, 2023

Sun spots, age spots or liver spots — no matter what you call them these names all describe the same type of dark spot that forms from too much fun in the sun. (In this story, all three terms will be used to describe sun spots.) While the spots themselves are harmless, the Mayo Clinic confirms that sun spots are signs of UV damage that can turn cancerous. This is why the ultimate skin care tip for any skin concern or skin type is to always wear sunscreen


While a dermatologist will be able to better determine which method of addressing sun spots will work best for your skin, allow this guide to help answer some of your initial questions about sun spots. Here, learn more about sun spots — including white sun spots and red sun spots — plus tips and products to expand your skin care routine to help minimize sun spots.


What Are Sun Spots?

According to the Mayo Clinic, sun spots are flat marks that develop on the skin in areas that have had lots of sun exposure. These spots are most common on the face, neck, back of hands, shoulders, upper back, and tops of the feet — but sun spots can appear anywhere on the body. Sun spots on legs are also common, especially since legs are exposed to a lot of sun, similar to the arms and face. Size-wise, sun spots can be as small as a freckle and as big as half an inch, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Keep in mind that freckles are different from sun spots for several reasons, and freckles can fade on their own, but sun spots cannot. 


Sun spots may appear on your skin in different colors with varying shades of brown, red or pink being the most common. While sun spots are (inherently) harmless, they are signs of too much sun, which in turn can be dangerous. Mayo Clinic recommends a visit to the doctor if sun spots on the skin start bleeding, turning black or growing in size, these could be a sign that they may not actually be sun spots, but signs of melanoma. 


What Causes Sun Spots on Skin?

The cause of these age spots all comes back to prolonged sun exposure as the UV light from the sun speeds up the skin’s melanin production rate. According to the Mayo Clinic, melanin is what gives your skin pigment and sun spots occur when more melanin occurs in one area, creating the dark spots. 


Excessive sun exposure has a lasting effect on skin tone and texture, with signs of aging (aka wrinkles and fine lines), as well as freckles and sun spots developing at an increased rate. Sun spots specifically occur when your skin is exposed to the sun and unprotected from ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, the Cleveland Clinic confirms. This means sun spots can appear after a session in a tanning booth or sunbed that emits UVB rays, or even from certain forms of radiation therapy, according to the American Cancer Society.  


What Are White Sun Spots?

According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, white sun spots are skin manifestations clinically referred to as idiopathic guttate hypomelanosis (IGH). These white spots occur when there is decreased melanin production in the skin — the opposite of dark spots. Although the full cause of IGH is unknown, it is thought that UV light exposure (like the sun) plays a big role in its development. For this reason, this skin concern is sometimes referred to as a white sun spot, but ultimately they’re different from dark sun spots. 


What Are Red Sun Spots?

Red sun spots differ from white sun spots and dark sun spots in both color and texture, however, they’re still formed in similar manners as the other spots. Also known as Actinic Keratosis, per the Mayo Clinic, red sun spots develop after years of unprotected sun exposure and appear as scaly, rough patches on the skin.


According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, these red spots form gradually over time and can be removed with laser surgery and other expert-applied treatments. Similar to white spots and dark sun spots, you’ll want to have red spots checked out by your doctor to determine if it’s cancerous or not. 


How to Help Prevent Sun Spots

Preventing sun spots is all about how you prepare your skin for the sun — it’s possible with the right combination of products and sun exposure practices. Since it can be difficult to fade these marks after they appear, prevention is key to keeping age spots away. Follow these tips below to help prevent sun spots from occuring in the first place. 


1. Use a Broad-spectrum Sunscreen

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen can help prevent the appearance of sun spots since this form of sunscreen protects against the sun’s UVB rays (aka the radiation responsible for sunburn) and UVA rays (the radiation that causes the skin to tan). Exposure to both UVA and UVB rays can lead to cancers and contribute to signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. Try the L’Oréal Paris Bright Reveal Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Daily UV Lotion, which contains vitamin C and vitamin E to protect skin from free radicals that accelerate signs of aging, per the Skin Cancer Foundation. This sunscreen is lightweight enough for regular reapplication and won’t leave skin feeling greasy.


2. Take Extra Sun Protection Steps

No matter the weather, you’ll want to take extra measures to protect your skin. Keep in mind how long you’re lingering in the sun (it’s most intense from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.) and on extra long, sunny days consider wearing a cover-up (if at the beach), long sleeves or long pants. And always keep body and face sunscreen in your bag for reapplication. 


Remember, without protection sun spots on legs, arms and lower back are possible when skin is exposed to the sun for too long. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the delicate skin around your eyes and on your head is also susceptible to sun spots, so consider wearing a pair of big sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat if going outside for extended periods.


3. Brighten Your Complexion

Use an ascorbic acid-like vitamin C to assist your SPF in protecting your skin from sun damage. Per the Cleveland Clinic, vitamin C works in your skin to fight off the free radicals that sun exposure makes. A buildup of free radicals, in return, creates oxidative stress that causes wrinkles, sun spots and other signs of aging. That’s why vitamin C and SPF make such a perfect pair. 


The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) confirms that topical vitamin C can also help even out skin tone by fading sun spots — as well as other dark spots — and resurfacing skin for a smoother texture. Add this antioxidant to your daily routine in the form of a concentrated serum like the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 12% Pure Vitamin C + E + Salicylic Acid Serum. This potent formula quickly absorbs into the skin to reduce the appearance of enlarged pores and fine lines, as well as evening skin tone for a clearer complexion.

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What to Do About Existing Sun Spots

If you already have sun spots, you’re probably wondering how you can get them to go away. Unfortunately, you can’t completely make these age spots disappear, but there are ways to fade their appearance using skin care and in-office dermatologist-applied treatments. As a general note, the AAD urges the regular use of sunscreen after any of these services as the skin can be extra sensitive post-treatment. 

1. Add Niacinamide and Other Topicals to Your Skin Care Regimen

A solid skin care routine is always necessary for preventing and treating sun spots. To reiterate what has been well established, make sure your regimen has a broad-spectrum SPF to keep skin protected from developing new spots. Another skin care option is to add over-the-counter niacinamide and prescription-grade topical retinol to your routine. 


Prescription retinol is stronger than over-the-counter options and can better fade dark spots. Accordingly, the Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings confirms that you can use a topical niacinamide product to reduce the appearance of age spots. Pick up the L’Oréal Paris Bright Reveal 12% [Niacinamide + Amino Sulfonic + Ferulic Acid] Dark Spot Serum which uses amino sulfonic acid to gently exfoliate and ferulic acid to brighten skin, while niacinamide helps reduce the appearance of dark spots like sun spots. 

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2. Use Light Therapy

Laser treatments aren’t an easy sun spot removal method, since they require multiple laser sessions and can be painful to some people. However, they are a quicker way to address sun spots for longer-lasting results, according to the AAD. The specific type of laser treatment will vary by dermatologist, but the main purpose is to create light energy that turns to heat to destroy the overactive melanin clumps in your skin. As far as side effects go, crusting or temporary darkening of the spots may occur, but the AAD states that these effects tend to fade quickly.


3. Try Dermatologic Resurfacing

Microdermabrasion can be used to smooth away sun spots on your face and body, per the AAD. A study from the Aesthetic Surgery Journal shows that this technique is effective for smoothing skin texture and tone, reducing age spots, wrinkles and other skin-damaging effects of the sun. Since microdermabrasion is a clinical service that removes inflammation from sun-damaged skin, redness and swelling may occur as the skin repairs itself.

4. Consider a Chemical Peel

The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) recommends a chemical peel to fade sun spots on the face, neck and hands. Chemical peels work to create a controlled wound using different acids like glycolic acid, salicylic acid and lactic acid to promote new skin growth. These services should only be applied by a professional to get the right peel formula for your specific skin. If you have sensitive skin you may want to skip this option as it can be painful, cause irritation and slight burning can occur as the peel does its job, the ASDS confirms. 


Next: How to Improve the Look of Dark Spots, According to a Dermatologist


Photographer: Ted Cavanaugh, Producer: Becca Solovay, Art Director: Hannah Packer, Prop Stylist: Katrina Rozeville, Prop Assistant: Emily Ramirez, Photo Assistant: Ben Berkes, Digi Tech: Aaron Barton

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