6 Ways to Treat Sun Spots

Sun spots – also referred to as age spots, liver spots or dark spots – are flat brown, gray or black spots that usually appear on the back of the hands, neck, face, shoulders and arms – any area most often exposed to the sun.

While sun spots may not show up until the age of 40 or so, (hence the other name, age spots) they can appear on younger people.  Those with light colored, or fair skin and those who have a history of frequent sunburn or exposure to the sun, will most commonly develop sun spots.

True sun spots are harmless and don’t require treatment, but they can look like cancerous growths so it’s always recommended that you have them medically diagnosed so you can rule out a more serious condition.

Signs and Symptoms

Sun spots are a sign of sun damage and over exposure to UV rays over many years.  The use of commercial tanning beds and lamps can also result in the development of sun spots.  Exposing the skin to UV light accelerates the production of melanin in our skin, creating a ‘tan’ that helps protect deeper layers of skin from future UV rays. However as we age, our skin’s natural ability to fend off UV rays from the sun begins to deteriorate, and as a result, we see the development of sun spots.

Spots can range in size from a small freckle-size to a spot that is half inch (1 centimeter) across.  These spots can also group together, making them more prominent.


Treating Sun Spots

It is important to remember that sun spots take years to form, so it stands to reason that some treatments may take time to work.  On the other hand, other treatments may provide immediate results but they require a lengthy recovery time:

#1 – Lightening CreamsPrescription grade lightening creams used alone or with retinoids and a mild steroid may gradually fade the spots over several months.  This treatment leaves the skin very sensitive to sunlight.  Sun protection with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+ is recommended if you use this treatment.

#2 – Laser TherapyLaser therapy destroys melanin-producing cells without damaging the skin’s surface. Several sessions are usually required to achieve lasting results. After treatment, spots fade gradually over several weeks or months. Laser therapy has few side effects, but it may result in slight discoloration of the skin.

#3 Chemical PeelA chemical peel ‘burns’ the outer layer of the skin. As the skin peels away, new skin forms, slowly removing all evidence of spots.  Several treatments may be necessary. Sun protection with SPF 30+ is highly recommended after chemical peeling.

#4 FreezingAlso called cryotherapy, this procedure involves applying liquid nitrogen or another freezing agent to the spots to destroy the extra pigment. As the area heals, the skin appears lighter. Freezing is typically used on a single spot or a small grouping of spots. The treatment may temporarily irritate the skin and poses a slight risk of permanent scarring or discoloration.

#5 DermabrasionThe most aggressive of treatment, this procedure requires local anesthetic and consists of abrading or ‘sanding’ down the upper layers of the skin. After treatment, the skin is very red and raw-looking, and it takes several months for the skin to re-grow and heal.

#6 Home Remedies There are several home remedies that have been shown to fade sun spots.  Like all treatments, these may take some time to produce results, but they are proven remedies, and they cost just pennies to do.  Here are two:

  • Lemon juice has been shown to help fade the appearance of sun spots. Simply dab fresh lemon juice directly onto the spots twice daily and you should begin to notice improvements in about two months. Leave the juice on the skin for at least 30 minutes, or as long as you are comfortable with it. You can also leave the juice on the skin overnight.

NOTE: If you plan to go outdoors, wait for the juice to dry as it increases the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight.

  • Apple cider vinegar is an excellent remedy for fading sun spots.  Apply directly to the skin alone, or mix with onion juice and apply directly to the skin. To get the onion juice, finely chop or blend an onion, and use a strainer or cheese cloth to squeeze and extract the juice.  Mix equal parts of vinegar and onion juice and apply to spots with a cotton pad. Leave this on the skin for a minimum of 30 minutes, or as long as you are comfortable with it. Repeat this once a day for approximately 6 weeks and you should begin to notice a gradual improvement.

Finally, the best remedy for sun spots is prevention!  Always use a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 if you plan to be outdoors for extended periods of time. For more information on sunscreen, including new FDA guidelines for 2012, read our related articles below.

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  1. Marina says:

    Great information. However, we must remind people not to have anything lasered off until they have had a full body exam by their Dermatologist. Especially for all those with multiple moles, solar lentigines (sun spots) and other lesions. Be AWARE and be EDUCATED, never take any spots for granted and assume “it’s nothing”. Better safe then the alternative. Daily SPF and reapply every two hours if out all day, if your oily use an oil free base, if your dry use one with moisturizer.

    We are based in Southern Calif. beach area, so our patients use hats and sun protective apparel. You will find sunscreen in our car glove compartments and purses. Californian’s have definitely made PALE THE NEW CHIC!

    Marina Arnold, R.N.
    Laser director of Newport Heights Medical Center
    Founder, SPF Addict, LLC

    Excellent advice! Thank you for your input and for educating our readers about sunspots, sun protection and the importance of a full body inspection if moles, spots or lesions of any type are noted.

    Editor, Healthy Skin Solutions