Sun spots, also known as “solar lentigenes,” present as tan to brown spots on sun exposed areas such as the face, neck, chest, upper back and arms. Solar lentigenes are caused by an increase in the production of pigment (melanin) and melanocytes (pigment producing cells) as a response to UV radiation. Unlike moles where the melanocytes are clustered together, melanocytes in lentigenes are evenly dispersed along the epidermis. Lentigenes are benign but can be a reflection of sun damage. Patients with solar lentigenes should take preventive measures to protect their skin from further UV exposure. Treatment is similar to melasma and consists of aggressive sun protection along with other options:
- Hydroquinone cream: Bleaching cream which helps reduce the production of pigment (melanin) by melanocytes.
- Tretinoin cream: Increases the turnover of cells and helps resurface the skin. Tretinoin often works best when combined with a bleaching product such as hydroquinone.
- Sunscreen: Protection from the sun and liberal use of sunscreens is equally important in the treatment of solar lentigenes as prescription medications. Despite proper treatment, lentigenes can return with exposure to sun light and UV radiation.
- Azelaic acid: Has also been shown to decrease the activity of melanocytes, although less effective than hydroquinone.
- Phototherapy/Laser therapy: Laser and light therapy have shown to be very effective in the treatment of lentigenes, especially when bleaching creams don’t help.
Unlike melasma, solar lentigenes are not influenced by hormonal fluctuations. Lesions that are changing or growing should be evaluated by a dermatologist to rule out potentially concerning growths. A biopsy may be performed on atypical lesions to rule out lentigo maligna melanoma, a type of melanoma that results from excessive sun damage. Depending on your skin type and clinical symptoms, our dermatologist can help determine which treatment options are best for you.