Sunspots on Skin

Sunspots on Skin:  Cause, Prevention & Removal

Everything seems alright when the sun is shining bright. Doesn’t it? At the same time, most of us are aware that too much sun can cause wrinkles, pre-mature ageing, sunburn and other serious skin conditions. But did you know that over-exposure to the sun can also cause sunspots on skin?

What are sunspots?

Sunspots are flat brown spots that show up on your skin because of over-exposure to the sun’s UV rays. They are also called age spots, liver spots, solar keratosis or solar lentigines.

How can you spot them?

  • They usually appear on the parts of your skin that are regularly exposed to the sun. That is why they often appear on your cheeks, forehead, nose and sides of the face, and even at the back of your hands.
  • They are flat and can be brown, grey or black in color. On some people, they may look like white and even red spot..
  • They are usually painless but sometimes can may be painful and itchy, especially when exposed to sunlight.
  • Generally, they are flat and have the same texture or feel as the rest of your skin. But at times, they may look like slightly raised warts or may cause a scaly or rough skin lesion.

What causes sunspots on skin?

There are cells in our skin, called melanocytes that produce a pigment called melanin. Melanin gives color to the skin but it has another purpose too. It absorbs the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun (and from tanning beds). So, when you over-expose your body to the sun, these pigment-making cells produce more melanin as a defense against the sun’s UV rays. This is an attempt to protect the skin from overexposure, which results in darkening of skin, which we all know as tanning.  Sometimes this process results in the production of excess pigment in just one area instead of producing it evenly across your entire skin surface, thus causing these sunspots on your skin.

Though the UV rays are largely responsible for this skin-condition, other factors may also be responsible:

  1. Sometimes one’s body produces an increased amount of melanin on its own, leading to the development of darker areas on the skin.
  2. Some people may be allergic to harsh sunlight. Even a brief exposure to the sun can cause the skin to develop dark spots.
  3. Ageing can cause sunspots on skin, too.
  4. Yeast and fungal infection can be the cause of white spots in skin.

Are certain skin types more susceptible to forming sun spots?

Almost anyone can develop sunspots due to over exposure to the sun. But studies show that people with really fair skin are far more susceptible to develop this skin-condition.

Are sunspots the same as freckles?

sunspots on skin

While you may think that sunspots and freckles are the same thing, it is not true. Freckles are small dark spots, mostly brownish, that can appear anywhere on the skin. They may not necessarily show up only on the areas that are over-exposed to sunlight. They can appear even in young children.  Fair-skinned and red-haired people are more likely to have freckles. You may inherit the tendency to develop freckles and they can further darken with overexposure to sunlight.

Is there a connection between Sunspots and Melanoma or Skin Cancer?

Sunspots are generally harmless. However, it must be noted that mostly all of the common types of skin cancer start as a brown spot on the skin. It is, therefore, hard to tell just by looking if a brown spot is a sunspot or actually a warning sign that you are developing skin cancer, therefore it is important to get your skin examined by a dermatologist.

We know that sunspots are caused when the melanocytes (pigment making cells) make more melanin. It is important to understand that in the case of the sunspots, there is only an increase in the pigment that the skin cells are producing (and not in the number of the melanocyte cells). On the other hand, in the case of melanoma or skin-cancer, there is an increase in the number of the melanocyte cells.

Let’s see what is happening here. Too much exposure to the UV rays can damage the genetic material (the DNA) in your skin cells. This damage can cause skin cells to start growing out of control, which can lead to skin cancer. Thus, over exposure to the sun can put you at the risk of developing melanoma or skin cancer. Melanoma can be life-threatening.

So, if you think you have lots of sunspots on your skin, it is an indication that you have exposed your body to the sun far more than it can actually handle. While it’s true that they are harmless and generally not cancerous, it is best to have an annual skin examination to rule out any risk factors.  Remember, this is especially important if your skin shows a number of sunspots.

How to get rid of sunspots?

Sunspots may become the cause of emotional distress to some people.  But the good news is that they can be prevented, reduced and even removed with the right treatment.

  1. Prevention will help to stop new sunspots to appear on the skin. It will also stop the further darkening of already existing ones.
  2. They can be also be reduced or faded by using over the counter products and prescription medications. Even some natural remedies can also help in reducing the sunspots on your skin.
  3. There are some stubborn sunspots that don’t go away even by using creams or applying natural remedies. There are a number of medical procedures that can help remove these tenacious patches.

Let’s explore these options in more detail.

How to prevent skin sunspots?

As prolonged exposure to the sun is the most common cause of developing sunspots, the best way to prevent getting them will be to limit your exposure to the sun. You can use an umbrella or keep your arms, hands, face, neck and shoulders covered while going out in the sun.  While this is a very basic way of keeping sunspots in check, you can opt for other options. For example:

  1. Avoid going in the sun between 10 am and 4 pm. It is a period when the sun’s UV rays are the most intense.
  2. Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen,. It will guard your skin from the harsh UVA and UVB rays. Do you think that the sunscreen in your moisturizers, foundations and other cosmetic products is enough to save your skin from the harsh UV rays? Think again as it is not really enough. You would still need a good sunscreen to protect your skin.
  3. Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before you go out in the sun and reapply it after every two hours. You can increase this frequency if you are swimming or perspiring heavily.
  4. Avoid using tanning beds as they use UV rays. 

How to reduce or fade sunspots?

Reducing sunspots naturally:

  1. Apply lemon juice on the affected area: The mild citric acid in the lemon juice helps to lighten the sunspots. It also get rid of the dead skin cells while helping in regeneration of new skin cells. But as a word of caution, lemon juice can make your skin more sensitive than normal. So, you need to be very careful when you expose yourself to the sun. In addition, the acid in the juice can make your skin excessively dry. It is advisable to moisturize your skin thoroughly if you have applied lemon juice for sunspots removal. You can use a cotton ball to apply freshly squeezed lemon juice on the affected area. Leave it for about 15-20 minutes before washing it away.
  2. Apply aloe vera: it has natural healing properties that help to heal the damage caused by harsh UV rays. It cools down the skin and supports the natural regeneration of skin cells. It will also help your spots to fade away. You can either buy herbal creams that are enriched with aloe vera or get the juice directly from the plant.
  3. Using milk or butter milk: They both contain lactic acid that acts as natural bleaching agent. This acid helps in lightening or fading the sunspots while regenerating the skin cells.
  4. Vitamin E capsules: While you must have heard of popping vitamin tablets for a healthy body, did you know that you can apply them topically too? Vitamin E contains anti-oxidants, which help to protect and repair the skin. Open a capsule and mix it with honey. Apply this paste and leave it for a few minutes before washing it away.
  5. You can use a self tanner to make the sunspots less visible.

Reducing sunspots using professional skin care products

Are home remedies not proving enough? There are professional skin products in the market to help you fade or reduce your sunspots. These options include over-the-counter skin products and prescription medications, which can either control, fade or remove these spots.

Your can consult your doctor who may suggest using skin lightening or bleaching creams. These creams usually contain chemicals such as hydroquinone and retinol that help in fading or removing the sunspots. If you want to use an over-the-counter cream, you can choose the one that contains hydroquinone, glycolic acid (AHAs), or kojic acid.

It may take some time before you see the desired result with these creams.  Always remember to wear sunscreen at all times as these creams make your skin more sensitive to the UV rays. In addition, use of these creams may leave your skin itchy and dry, therefore, you will be required to moisturize your skin frequently.

How to remove sunspots?

What do you do with the persistent spots who simply refuse to go away? There are many dermatological procedures that can be used to remove the sunspots such as chemical peels, laser therapy, microdermabrasion and cryosurgery.  All of these treatments work by removing the damaged outer layer of skin. This results in bringing out the underlying layer and making the skin look younger, blemish-free and healthier. It must be emphasized that each of these treatments come with their own baskets of side effects. As they are quite technical in nature, it is therefore, very important that you consult a trusted and highly experienced dermatologist for your treatment.

  1. Laser skin resurfacing: In this technique, beams of lights are used to target the affected area. It helps to vaporize the dead and damaged skin cells layer by layer. Check out PicoSure, which recently got FDA approval and can also be used to remove sunspots.
  2. Chemical peels: This procedure uses a chemical solution or acids that causes the upper layer of the skin to exfoliate and finally peel off. Depending on the strength of the chemicals used and your skin’s sensitivity to it, these peels will leave your skin raw and red for some days.
  3. Microdermabrasion: It is a technique where the dead skin cells are exfoliated in a controlled manner and then suctioned away. This can either be done using salt crystals or aluminum sand to remove the dead cells. Use of an abrasive tool such as a wire brush or a diamond wand is also common to remove the dead skin build up. This process results in a wound that heals in time and is replaced by a fresh, new skin.
  4. Cryosurgery therapy uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy abnormal skin cells that require removal.

How would you know which procedure is best suited for your skin-type? Different skin types respond differently to these treatments and a lot of things also depend on the number and intensity of your sunspots. So, you should call your doctor and discuss in details the pros and cons of each of these procedures so that you can make a safe and well-informed decision. It will give you best results with minimized risks. When you opt for any of these treatments for your sunspots removal, always wear a good sunscreen after the procedure. It will help you protect your skin from any further UV damage.

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