A spray of freckles across the nose and cheeks is undeniably cute, and thanks to a host of celebrities proudly showing them off, freckles are back in fashion. One of the most prominent is Meghan Markle. Before she became the Duchess of Sussex, she told Allure magazine, ‘My pet peeve is when my skin tone is changed and my freckles are airbrushed out of a photo shoot.” When famed photographer Peter Lindbergh took a portrait of the Duchess for British Vogue in 2019, he shared what the Duchess told him to do. “‘I want to see freckles!’”
But at some point in our lives, cute freckles stop being cute when they become larger and merge together. At that point, freckles have become sun spots, which are not nearly as welcomed as freckles. Here’s a look at what causes sunspots, and how to get rid of them.
What Are Sunspots?
Sun spots are also called age spots, dark spots and hyperpigmentation. Their official name is “solar lentigines.” A true sun spot is flat, and either brown, tan or dark brown. They can appear anywhere on the body, but are most likely to appear on the face, hands, chest and shoulders – in other words, places that get the most sun exposure. Most sun spots start to appear in people in their 40’s.
What Causes Sun Spots on the Skin?
Sun spots are caused by a couple of different factors, including hormones and the aging process but one of the biggest causes is sun exposure. Sun spots are formed after repeated and prolonged exposure to the sun, so it’s important to remember that while they won’t appear out of the blue, they are caused by cumulative sun exposure.
UVA and UVB rays from the sun trigger melanin production, which is the body’s way of protecting itself. This shows up as a dark spot on the skin. Tanning beds also contribute to sun spots, and hormones are another trigger. Some pregnant women develop a dark patch on their face, which is called the “mask of pregnancy,” or melasma.
Are Sun Spots Dangerous?
A true sun spot is simply a flat, darkened spot on the skin that may be a cosmetic nuisance but is harmless. But it is important to be able to tell the difference between a sun spot and something that is potentially more serious, such as skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, if a brown spot is asymmetrical, has an irregular border and is changing color and/or size, have it checked out by a doctor.
Are Brown Sun Spots Common?
Brown sun spots are very common, as they are caused by sun exposure and are also a normal part of the aging process. While most sun spots are brown, they can be lighter or darker depending on skin tone, and look tan, dark brown or light brown.
What Are White Spots on the Skin?
White spots are also caused by too much sun exposure. While a brown spot is caused by too much pigment, a white spot happens when the body’s pigment has been destroyed. White spots tend to appear on the legs first.
What About Red Sun Spots?
As we get older, it is common to find small, bright red spots on the skin. If you have ruled out rashes or acne, they could most likely be a “cherry angioma,” which can be a flat or raised red dot. These are actually clusters of dilated blood vessels, which tend to run in families. If it is a cherry angioma, it is not related to the sun. Usually redness on the skin caused by the sun is more widespread and is called a “sun rash” or “sun allergy.” If you have any concerns about spots on your body, see your doctor.
Are Sun Spots on the Back Common?
Sun spots can be found anywhere on the body that has been exposed to the sun. If you’re at the beach or the pool, the back and shoulders can receive a lot of sun exposure – and these areas are the ones we tend to miss with sunscreen (especially if you’re applying it yourself).
What About Sun Spots on the Forehead?
Sun spots can appear anywhere on the face, including the forehead. Unless you apply sunscreen in front of the mirror, it is easy to miss spots on your forehead, especially near the hairline – which is where sun spots can appear.
Can Sun Spots Appear on the Nose?
Yes, as sun spots can appear on the nose, and anywhere on the face and body, including the cheeks, forehead, lips and arms.
Why Do Many People Have Sun Spots on Hands?
The back of the hands often show the signs of aging quickly, as the skin there is thin and often exposed to the sun. Even if you religiously apply sunscreen to your face every day, most people forget to protect their hands.
Do Sun Spots Go Away?
Unfortunately once they appear, sun spots will not go away on their own but there are plenty of products and procedures to help minimize their appearance.
What Are Some of the Best Sun Spot Treatments?
If you want to get rid of your sun spots, the options come down to using the right products, or making an appointment with a dermatologist (or a combination of the two). Keep in mind that most products must be used consistently to see results, and wearing sunscreen is essential – otherwise the sun spots will come back. Here’s a breakdown.
Hydroquinone is one of the most effective ingredients for fading dark spots. It works by blocking the melanin-producing enzyme tyrosinase. It is available in over the counter products such as Paula’s Choice RESIST Triple-Action Dark Spot Eraser 7% AHA Lotion, which contains 2% hydroquinone, and is also available by prescription.
It’s important to note that hydroquinone is a controversial ingredient that has been banned in Europe, Australia and Japan due to concerns that it may be a carcinogen. Possible side effects include increased pigmentation and darkening of the skin, which can be permanent. Anyone using prescription strength hydroquinone is closely monitored by a doctor, while some dermatologists simply won’t prescribe it as they feel the risks outweigh the benefits.
Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, is a gold standard ingredient in anti-aging skincare products. It can also help fade dark spots as it accelerates skin cell turnover, to reveal fresher, smoother and brighter looking skin. Retinols can cause redness and irritation so always start with a small amount to see how your skin tolerates it.
Vitamin C is commonly found in serums and moisturizers designed to help brighten the skin. This antioxidant also helps fade discoloration and hyperpigmentation.
One way to fade the look of dark spots is to exfoliate the skin. This can be done manually with a scrub but chunky one can cause microtears in the skin. If you like the feel of a physical scrub, try one made with rice enzymes. Or opt for a chemical exfoliation, which is more gentle to the skin. AHAs (alpha hydroxy acid) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acid) work by dissolving dead skin cells, leaving behind smooth, bright looking skin. Look for ingredients such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid or lactic acid. A doctor or medical professional can perform a deeper exfoliation with a chemical peel or perform microdermabrasion, a manual exfoliation using a fine spray of crystals to blast off a layer of skin.
Alternatives to Hydroquinone
If you don’t want to try hydroquinone, look for naturally derived ingredients which help fade dark spots by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosinase, which is necessary for the production of melanin. Key ingredients include kojic acid (a chemical produced from different types of fungi), licorice root, mulberry extract and green tea. Ellagic acid, a compound that can be found in some vegetables, nuts and fruits, also works to lighten dark spots. It is a natural antioxidant containing polyphenolic, which helps inhibits the formation of sun and age spots.
Home Remedies for Sun Spots
If you prefer to take a DIY approach to tackling sun spots, there are plenty of ingredients to try that are right in your kitchen — but always do a test patch first. Lemon juice is a favorite to lighten hair naturally in the sun, and the same concept applies to dark spots. Just dab a little lemon juice on dark spots; the vitamin C and citric acid can help fade the spot. Another option is apple cider vinegar, a natural alpha hydroxy acid which helps remove dead skin cells and lighten skin. Lactic acid, which is found in dairy products such as buttermilk and yogurt, helps give skin a gentle exfoliation, which helps fade sun spots.
Cryotherapy for Sun Spots on the Hands
A dermatologist can help zap age spots on the hand with cryotherapy. Cryotherapy, or cryosurgery, works to fade dark spots by freezing them with a liquid nitrogen solution. This causes the dark skin to peel off. Every procedure carries risk, and some possible side effects include over lightening of the skin and permanent white scars, according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS).
Laser for Sun Spot Removal
Lasers work on dark spots in different ways. With laser resurfacing, beams of light remove layers of skin to get rid of hyperpigmentation, and new skin grows in its place. Healing takes around 10 to 21 days. With IPL (intense pulsed light) laser, the laser beam targets melanin, and breaking up the pigment which eliminates dark spots. Multiple sessions at a dermatologist’s office are usually needed to see results.
What Are Some of the Best Sun Spot Removal Creams and Products?
A multi-prong (and multi product) approach is one of the best ways to tackle dark spots. Formulyst’s philosophy is creating solutions for skincare, and the brand offers a few different skin lightening and brightening products.
Formulyst Dark Spot Solutions is a serum powered by HyWhite, which is derived from alpha linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants. It works to minimize the appearance of dark spots while also quenching thirsty skin with hyaluronic acid.
Arbutin is a common alternative to hydroquinone, and can be made in a lab or derived from the bearberry plant. It is the star ingredient in Formulyst’s Luminous Skin Serum, which tackles skin discoloration and hyperpigmentation. The serum is powered by Triple Brightening Technology, a powerful blend of naturally derived alpha arbutin, rumex extract (a plant that helps stop the production of melanin) and a biomimetic peptide. The serum leaves skin looking lighter, brighter and more luminous.