POSTED: 24 Feb 2024

What You Should Know About Causes, Prevention & Treatments for Sunspots

Of all the skin concerns, sunspots are as common and misunderstood as you can get. Pretty much every one can and seems to get them. Yet most people don’t know what to do about them (if anything)! Yet, these small dark patches on the skin are more than just a cosmetic concern. They’re a physical record of our skin’s interaction with the sun’s powerful rays. We’ll explore what they are, causes, how to prevent and the best treatments for sunspots on the skin.

What are Sunspots on the Skin?

Sunspots are basically little tell-tale marks of the time we’ve spent under the sun. Contrary to popular belief, sunspots are not exclusive to light-skinned individuals. You can actually get sunspots across the full spectrum of skin tones, including in brown and black skin. Known as solar lentigines in medical circles, sunspots are flat and brown. However, the shade of this can vary depending on your skin colour). You can often find them on the areas of the body most commonly exposed to the sun. These are areas like the face, chest, hands, shoulders and arms. In and of themselves are completely harmless and benign. However, they are signs of the skin’s past encounters with UV radiation. People who have them may also be at higher risk of skin cancer as it’s also due to sun damage.

How Do They Look?

Sunspots are easy to spot due to their uniform colour and defined edges. They’re usually oval in shape and may differ in size. However, it can be easy to confuse them with other skin lesions which you can also get at the same time as sunspots. Generally, freckles, moles, actinic keratosis and skin cancer also can get mistaken for sunspots. Its crucial to be able to tell the difference between them and get help if you have any doubts.

Sunspots differ from freckles, as they are generally larger and do not fade during the winter months. Unlike freckles, they are also not inherited. They’re also different to moles, which are raised and can come in various colours and sizes, sunspots remain flat and are uniformly brown. In the case of actinic keratosis, this actually presents as rough, scaly patches on sun exposed areas. It can sometimes also lead to skin cancer. Finally, it’s also possible to mistake skin cancers like melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma with sunspots especially at their early stages. However, they tend to have different appearances and may change in shape, colour or size over time. For this reason, if you have any new skin lesions or changes in existing spots you should see a dermatologist to rule out these more serious conditions.

What Causes Sunspots on the Skin?

At the centre of the skin’s reaction to sunlight is melanin production by our pigment producing cells (melanocytes). This pigment is what gives our skin it’s colour and it is it’s frontline defense against UV radiation. Melanin absorbs and dissipates harmful UV rays to protect our DNA from damage. However, over time and with repeated sun exposure, the skin overproduces melanin in certain areas. This leads to the formation of sunspots.

Preventing Sunspots

The old saying “prevention is better than cure” couldn’t be truer for sunspots. The best way to prevent sunspots is to protect it from the sun. In fact, even if you already have sunspots, there’s no point in trying to treat them without first making sure you have adequate sun protection. The first thing you need to do is use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every single day. You should use sunscreen even if it’s not sunny or you’re indoors as the UV rays get through clouds and glass and can still damage your skin over time. So if you use sunscreen religiously and apply it correctly, you can significantly reduce the risk of getting sunspots.

Beyond sunscreen, you should also use protective clothing, hats and sunglasses when out and about in the sun as these offer an extra layer of defense against sun damage. So will seeking shade during peak sun hours to reduce direct exposure. Lastly, adding antioxidants like Vitamin C into your skincare routines will also bolster your skin’s defense against UV damage and help prevent sunspots.

Treatments to Get Rid of Sunspots on the Skin

If you already have sunspots on their skin, then don’t worry! There are a number of good treatments that can fade or even get rid of them. The first thing you should do is just get a skin check and make sure that these are in fact sunspots and nothing more serious. At the same time, before trying any treatment, make sure that you protect your skin from the sun to prevent more sunspots from forming. In general, you can generally split treatments for sunspots into over-the-counter products, prescription skincare and advanced professional treatments. You may require just one type or a combination of treatments based on the severity of the sunspots and your skin type.

Over-the-Counter Skincare:

These products are widely available and can gently fade sunspots over time. They are best suited for mild to moderate concerns but can also have benefits alongside prescription or professional treatments for more severe sunspots.

To get the best out of skincare, you will need to use your products consistently over several weeks or months. It takes time to see visible improvements and these vary from person to person. These treatments are generally safe to use and have minimal side effects if used correctly. That being said, always perform a patch test and follow the instructions on the label carefully.

Prescription Skincare:

For more pronounced sunspots, dermatologists may recommend prescription-strength treatments, which offer higher concentrations of active ingredients for more effective results. These include:

Whilst prescription treatments are more powerful than over the counter products, they still take time to work. They also carry a risk of more noticeable side effects. This is why it’s vital to find a medical provider who can create a personalised protocol for your individual skin type and needs.

Professional Skin Treatments:

If you have limited success with topical treatments or for severe and widespread hyperpigmentation, professional dermatological procedures might be worth considering. These treatments can provide quicker and more dramatic results but carry higher risks if they are not done by qualified professionals.

  • Chemical Peels: These are strong acid solutions that are applied to the top layers of the skin to remove them which helps reduce the appearance of sunspots. There are many different types and strengths of peels and your therapist will help choose the best one for your kin type and concern.
  • Laser Therapy: Procedures like fractional laser can resurface the skin and target melanin specifically. This breaks up pigmentation without harming surrounding tissue.
  • Intense Pulsed Light (IPL): These treatments use broad-spectrum light to target melanin in the sunspots and help fade them.

Although professional treatments can provide significant improvements, they also come with higher costs, greater risks of side effects and a need for downtime for recovery. You will also normally need several treatments over a period of time to see noticeable results. It’s essential to seek a qualified and experienced medical professional if you are considering these treatments. They will discuss with you the potential benefits and risks to help select the best and safest treatment for you.

Long-Term Skin Health

It’s useful to see sunspots as an opportunity to take care of your skin and overall health. In addition to a regular skincare routine that targets sunspots, nourishes your skin and prevents sun damage, there are some lifestyle measure that can also help. You can boost your skin’s appearance and prevent future sunspots and skin problems with a balanced diet rich in antioxidants, ample hydration and regular skin checks.

Sunspots on the skin are more than just a cosmetic flaws. There are our skin’s record of sun damage and serve as a warning to look after and protect our skin. By understanding the causes of sunspots, you can arm yourself with the best ways to prevent them and find suitable treatments. Whatever you do, don’t waste this opportunity to adopt a skincare routine and lifestyle habits that will ultimately also help improve the appearance of your skin and prevent skin ageing.

At City Skin Clinic, we are devoted to personalised skincare. Our online skin clinic, offers safe and effective individualised treatments with prescription-strength ingredients like Tretinoin and Hydroquinone. Our doctors treat a range of skin conditions including acne and scars, hyperpigmentationmelasma and skin ageing. To start your personalised skincare plan, book a virtual video consultation or use our online consultation form. The journey towards great skin starts here.

Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

Connect with us

  • Facebook Logo
  • Twitter Logo
  • Instagram Logo
  • Pinterest Logo
  • YouTube Logo
  • LinkedIn Logo

Start Your Online Consultation

The journey to great skin starts here. Start your online consultation for personalised prescription-strength skincare.

Start Consultation