Sun Spots on Your Skin: The Complete Guide to Prevention and Treatment ----- Back

25.02.20 - Knowledge

Sun Spots on Your Skin: The Complete Guide to Preventing and Treating Them

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Words by Antoinette Barnardo

In dermatology-speak, sun spots on the skin occur due to the accumulation of sun exposure and sunburns over the years. Besides weekly tennis games and the occasional beach-induced sunburn, accumulated sun exposure also consists of small, daily activities done without adequate sun protection. These can be as minute as mowing your lawn without a hat or walking to your nearby convenience store without putting on sunscreen. 

This is why as you get older, you notice sun spots appearing on your face and body. Here, we'll explain what sun spots are and what you can do about them. 

What Are Sun Spots?

Sun spots go by many names — liver spots, age spots, or solar lentigines. Whichever term you choose to use, they essentially mean the same thing — hyperpigmentation on the skin that's caused by prolonged sun exposure over the years. 

Here are some common traits of sun spots: 

  • Flat, pigmented spots that are usually round or oval
  • May appear as a singular spot or in clusters 
  • Range from light brown to black 
  • Vary from 0.2-2.0 centimeters in diameter
  • Usually appear on the face, back of hands, shoulders, upper back, arms, or feet

The Science Behind Sun Spot Formation

A lifetime of sun exposure is associated with an increased risk of sun spots forming on your skin. But how does this work exactly? 

Melanogenesis is the process by which melanin is produced. Melanin is the pigment responsible for giving age spots their dark color. The key enzymes that regulate melanin production are tyrosinase and tyrosinase-related proteins (TRP-1 and TRP-2). When your skin is exposed to UV light, this increases melanin production in pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. A 2007 study by the Shiseido Research Center discovered that there is an increased number of TRP1-positive cells in individuals with solar lentigines. 

On top of that, a 2017 study published in Experimental Dermatology found out that chronic sun exposure also interfered with the proliferation of keratinocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis. This eventually led to melanin accumulation in the epidermis which manifested as dark spots on the skin. 

Last but not least, UV-induced sun damage also presents itself in the form of increased skin inflammation. As such, it's likely that alongside liver spots, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and skin dryness may also occur.  

Who Is at Risk of Sun Spots?

While sun spots may happen to everyone, some groups are at a higher risk of it. These include those who: 

  • Are aged 30 and above 
  • Frequently spent time under the sun or in tanning beds 
  • Have red hair and fair skin 

How to Prevent and Treat Sun Spots on Your Skin

Now that we have a clearer idea of how sun spots are formed, let's talk about how to prevent and treat them. 

Preventing Sun Spots 

Preventing sun spot formation is possible. It involves being vigilant with sun protection from an early age. 

1. Use Sunscreen 

Using broad-spectrum sunscreen is the mainstay of adequate sun protection. But how much of it should you use and at which SPF level? 

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, you should apply two tablespoons of sunscreen to the exposed parts of your body, including a "nickel-sized dollop to the face alone." This will ensure you're getting enough SPF from the sunscreen you're using. 

If you stay indoors most of the time, applying SPF 30 will do. On the other hand, if you're constantly spending time outside, you will need stronger sun protection such as SPF 50 and above. 

Additionally, you should apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out, and reapply it every two hours or so. For those who regularly do sports, use a water-resistant sunscreen and remember to reapply after sweating or being in the water. This will prevent your sunscreen from being washed away.

2. Wear Sun-Protective Clothing and Accessories

Besides slathering on the SPF, you should also wear sun-protective clothing if you intend to stay out in the sun for a while. This includes long-sleeved tops and long pants. Choose breathable fabrics like cotton to keep your skin covered without adding to your body temperature. Shop for clothes with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) label to further enhance protection against harmful UV light. 

On top of that, wear sunglasses that have UV protection and a wide-brimmed hat. These small actions don't take much effort but will go a long way to preventing age spots from forming on your face in the future. 

3. Sun-Proof Your Surroundings

Does staying indoors mean you'll be safe from sun exposure and UV damage? Not necessarily. This is because while most windows block out UVB rays, UVA rays can still pass through and cause chronic sun damage in the long run. 

To avoid this, apply a solar window film on the inside of your windows which will block out UVA rays while still allowing natural light to pass through. If you drive, note that only your car's windshield blocks out UVA, which makes your skin vulnerable to the UVA rays streaming in from the side and rear. As a result, it's advisable to sun-proof your car too by installing car-specific solar films on the side and rear windows.

4. Seek Shade

Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the sun's rays are at their strongest. To prevent age spots and sunburn, seek shade when you're out and about during this time. Of course, your defense mechanism of sunscreen, shades, and hats will come in handy here too. 

5. Avoid Tanning Beds

While looking sun-kissed has long been touted as a beauty ideal, getting this golden skin tone through tanning beds can lead to sun spots and even skin cancer. 

A 2010 study in the Journal of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention discovered that frequent indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma, a type of skin cancer, by 74%. As such, it's best to avoid tanning beds altogether. 

Treating Sun Spots

But what if you already have sun spots on your skin? Besides using the above tips to prevent existing age spots from darkening or increasing in number, there are also numerous treatment options to lighten and even eradicate them. 

1. Apply Lightening Skincare Products 

Incorporating lightening skincare products such as a serum or moisturizer in your daily routine is key to effectively fading away age spots. These are the proven skin-lightening ingredients your topical products should have: 

  • Azelaic acid 
  • Arbutin 
  • Bergamot 
  • Kojic acid 
  • Lactic acid 
  • Mulberry 
  • Niacinamide 
  • Vitamin C 

Tip — At the end of your routine, seal in all your topicals with a thin layer of YORA's Revitalise Face Mask that contains Axolight® to further lighten blemishes like liver spots. 

2. Exfoliate Your Face and Body

Exfoliation is an essential step in any skincare routine, particularly when you're targeting hyperpigmentation issues like sun spots. The top layer of your skin, the stratum corneum, is renewed every four weeks. To quicken your skin's turnover rate, include an exfoliant like YORA's Revitalise Face Polish to slough away dead skin cells and lighten the age spots on your face more efficiently. 

At the same time, use a body scrub in the shower to fade away discolorations on your forearms, shoulders, upper back, and legs. Remember to apply a moisturizer on your face and body afterward to prevent your skin from becoming overly dry. 

3. Try Chemical Peels 

If you've read our article on how to get smooth skin, you'll know chemical peels are highly effective in lightening any kind of hyperpigmentation, especially liver spots. Superficial and medium-depth chemical peels are recommended since they focus on exfoliating the epidermis. 

A medium-depth chemical peel with 40% trichloroacetic acid (TCA) was proven to improve the appearance of age spots, according to a 1996 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 

4. Explore Microdermabrasion 

Microdermabrasion is another exfoliating option when it comes to treating sun spots. While microdermabrasion can be used alone, a 2007 study by the University of Minnesota School of Medicine suggested combining it with a chemical peel to lighten liver spots more quickly. 

5. Make Use of Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)

Compared to other treatment options that focus on facial sun spots like exfoliation and topical products, IPL is a form of light therapy that is ideal for treating discolorations on the body. According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Dermatologic Therapy, 62% of patients experienced more than 50% improvement in the liver spots on the back of their hands. 

One thing to note though is that IPL may not be as effective for darker skin tones and repeated sessions are needed to see visible results. 

6. Employ Laser Therapy

While cryotherapy (a type of cold therapy that uses freezing temperatures or liquid nitrogen to remove sun spots and other hyperpigmentation) has long been used in dermatology to treat solar lentigines, this mode of treatment tends to cause side effects like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) in darker skin tones. This is why laser therapy is preferable over cryotherapy since it can lighten age spots without adverse side effects. 

This is supported by a 2011 study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology that showed darker-skinned patients treated with long-pulse pulsed dye laser observed significant lightening of their age spots without incurring PIH, as compared to those treated with cryotherapy. 

As such, laser treatment is more suitable for darker-skinned individuals looking to lighten their hyperpigmentation issues.

Should You Be Worried About Your Sun Spots?

Sun spots, in general, are usually benign. However, the initial symptoms of most skin cancers such as melanoma and basal cell carcinoma start out looking like solar lentigines. 

When in doubt, speak to your dermatologist or doctor, especially if you observe any unusual changes in your sun spots. Your health professional will then perform a skin biopsy to rule out the possibility of cancerous skin spots. 

You can also use the ABCDE rule to determine if your age spot is a cause for concern or not: 

  • Asymmetry: One half of the age spot looks different from the other half 
  • Borders: Blurry, irregular edges around the spot 
  • Color: Different shades of colors within a solar lentigo 
  • Diameter: The spot is unusually large (i.e. more than 6 millimeters in diameter) 
  • Evolving: Age spot changes in color, size, shape, or texture 

Also, if your sun spots are accompanied by redness, itchiness, tenderness, or bleeding, it's best to seek medical assistance immediately. 

It's Time to Lighten Up About Your Sun Spots

Sun spots may be unsightly but it's not something that you'll have to endure forever. Thanks to advancements in clinical dermatology, numerous treatments are available to cater to individual conditions and needs. For best results, combine these treatments with a revamped skincare routine to help tackle sun spots in a more wholistic and efficient manner. 

Of course, age spots are entirely preventable in the first place. It all boils down to conscientious sun protection efforts from a young age. As such, it's recommended to implement these protective measures as early as possible so that you're less likely to encounter sun spots in the future.

Words by Antoinette Barnardo

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