What are “sun spots” and how do you get rid of them? By Shalini Vemula, MD

What are sun spots?

Sun spots are otherwise known as solar lentigines. They usually present as flat brown spots. They commonly occur on the face, chest and arms but can occur on any sun-exposed skin. They can vary in shape and size. Solar lentigines are benign; however, they indicate excessive sun/ultralight (UV) light exposure. They are common in adulthood, especially in people over the age of 40 years, but young adults and children can also get them, especially if they spend a lot of time outside.

What causes sun spots?

Solar lentigines frequently occur after prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light exposure from the sun. The exact mechanism of formation is not fully understood. After sun exposure, melanocytes (aka the pigment-producing cells of the skin) multiply in the skin and produce more melanin pigment, causing brown spots to appear on the skin.

How can sun spots be prevented?

Prevention is key. To prevent solar lentigines, apply sunscreen to all sun-exposed areas of the body daily. Make sure you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or more. It is best to wear sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats and sun-protective clothing when outdoors. Also try to avoid exposure to midday sunlight (10AM to 3PM) and seek shade when you can. In addition, an over-the-counter topical vitamin C serum, which contains antioxidants, can be worn under sunscreen to protect the skin from free-radical damage that is caused by UVA radiation.

How do you get rid of sun spots?

There are a range of treatment options for sun spots including topical therapies and procedures. Treatments can be combined to achieve the best results. Topical therapies include retinoids (ie, tretinoin, adapalene, tazarotene) and lightening agents such as hydroquinone. Procedures are the most effective at treating sun spots. Procedural treatments include cryotherapy, laser, pulsed light and chemical peels. Although cryotherapy is effective, lightening of the skin can follow treatment particularly in darker skin types. It’s best to talk to your dermatologist about which treatments best suit your skin.

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