If you have sunspots on your skin from one too many beach days (or you’re still being punished for those senior prom tanning sessions), how the heck do you get rid of them?
While these dark spots are harmless, not everyone likes the way they look. But there are safe and effective ways to get rid of sunspots (or at least reduce the appearance) at home or by a professional.
How do you get rid of sunspots?
If you want to get rid of sunspots on your face or body, professional treatment options include:
- chemical peels
- laser resurfacing
- intense pulse light (IPL)
You can also use at-home sunspot treatments to help lighten your sunspots. A few options are:
- topical creams
- vitamin C
- vitamin E
- licorice extract
- apple cider vinegar (ACV)
Sunspots — aka age spots or liver spots — are flat, pigmented spots caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. They can vary in size and usually pop up on parts of the skin that get the most sun (e.g., face, shoulders, hands, and arms).
Exposure to UV rays — either from the sun or tanning beds — can cause sunspots. The UV rays pump up the production of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color.
The good news? Despite being caused by the sun, sunspots don’t actually lead to skin cancer and don’t require any medical attention or treatment. The bad news? If you have more sunspots that also means you have a history of more sun exposure — which means you may be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer.
PSA: Sunspots are more common in folks who are over 50, but younger peeps can get them too. And people who have lighter skin are more likely to get them.
Ready to send sunspots packing? Here’s how you can have sunspots removed (or at least try to lighten them) if you don’t like the way they look.
Professional sunspot treatments
Visiting a board certified dermatologist for treatment is the most effective way to get rid of sunspots. Just keep in mind, these cosmetic sunspot treatments might not be covered by your insurance.
Cryotherapy. This treatment uses nitrous oxide or a liquid nitrogen solution to freeze sunspots off ❄️. You need to get it done by a dermatologist in a sterile setting.
Microneedling. This procedure pricks the skin with tiny needles to trigger collagen production. Microneedling can decrease the appearance of sunspots and can also help with acne scars. And don’t worry, a topical anesthetic can be applied to help reduce discomfort during the procedure. FYI: It might take multiple sessions to see results.
Chemical peels. Chemical peels can remove layers of pigmented skin. Popular peels include glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acid. You’ll need to go to a dermatologist for medical-grade peels, but you can get a lighter peel at a lot of facial spas. Just make sure your provider is legit.
Laser resurfacing. This facial rejuvenation procedure uses lasers to remove skin one layer at a time until the sunspots are gone. The idea is that new skin will grow in the spot’s stead. Healing usually takes 10 to 21 days depending on your skin and how intense the procedure was.
Microdermabrasion. This procedure sloughs off and sucks away dead skin cells to reveal the fresh skin underneath. Microdermabrasion can cause temporary tightness and redness, but you’ll usually only feel mild discomfort at most.
Intense pulse light (IPL). IPL heats and destroys melanin with light energy. It usually takes multiple sessions to get a good result, and sessions lasts around 30 minutes.
At-home sunspot treatments
On a budget or just not into invasive cosmetic treatments? There are other ways you can reduce the look of sunspots at home. Just note that results may vary.
Topical creams. Over-the-counter (OTC) creams containing lightening ingredients can help nip sunspots in the bud. Look for creams that have deoxyarbutin, hydroxy acid, glycolic acid, or kojic acid.
Vitamin C. This all-star vitamin has some impressive skin-lightening properties when used topically. Vitamin C also promotes overall skin health since it can increase collagen production and can protect you from oxidative damage.
Vitamin E. There’s some evidence to show that vitamin E can improve the appearance of pigmented contact dermatitis lesions and melasma. There’s also some research to suggest dietary or topical vitamin E can help lighten sunspots. But TBH, we need more proof.
Aloe. Aloe isn’t just used for treating burns. Research shows it can also lighten hyperpigmentation like sunspots thanks to compounds like aloesin and aloin.
Licorice extract. Studies show licorice can inhibit the production of tyrosinase, an enzyme that catalyzes melanin production. That means it might reduce your risk of sunspots.
Tea. A 2011 animal study found that topical black tea water applied twice a day for 4 weeks helped lighten hyperpigmentation. A 2015 study also found that black tea, green tea, and white tea extracts had an anti-melanogenic effect (a fancy way of saying they can help lighten hyperpigmentation). But TBH, we need more studies to prove the exact effects on humans.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV). ACV contains acetic acid which might lighten sunspots when used on the reg. Just note that applying undiluted ACV directly to the skin can burn! Make sure you always dilute ACV before applying.
Reminder: Sunspots are noncancerous. So there’s no reason to remove them for health reasons. But getting rid of sunspots can have a positive effect on your self-esteem if you don’t dig the way they look.
Also, some of the treatments used to remove sunspots have some other sweet perks. Some of them can:
- even skin tone
- improve skin texture
- decrease the look of fine lines
- reduce the appearance of acne scars
Sunspots can be confused with other spots, dots, specks, and flecks on your skin. Here’s what else you should look out for.
- Freckles. These small spots are caused by an overproduction of melanin. UV light exposure can make them more prominent. Unlike sunspots, they can disappear on their own.
- Birthmarks. There’s two types of birthmarks: vascular and pigmented. They can vary in texture, color, and size. They’re usually harmless.
- Melasma. Melasma can cause gray or brown patches on the skin. The most common areas to get it are the forehead, cheeks, chin, bridge of the nose, and above the upper lip. It’s caused by UV light exposure, changes in hormones, or irritating skin products. Like sunspots, it’s not harmful.
- Skin cancer. About 1 in 5 Americans will develop a type of skin cancer by the time they’re 70, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Skin cancer warning signs can be a new or growing mole or spot that has irregular borders. You may also notice lesions that bleed, itch, or don’t heal.
- Moles (aka beauty marks). These skin growths can range in color from your natural tone to black or brown. They can get darker after sun exposure or as your age. Most moles are harmless, but you should always get them checked if they start to change in any way.
The best way to prevent sunspots is to take great care of your skin. That means:
- Apply a high quality sunscreen on the daily (even if it’s overcast or rainy).
- Cover your skin with UV-blocking clothing.
- Limit your exposure to UVA and UVB rays.
- Avoid direct sun exposure.
- Don’t go tanning.
Sunspots are flat, often circular marks on the skin. They’re caused by exposure to UV rays and don’t disappear on their own. Thankfully, sunspots can’t lead to cancer and aren’t bad for your health (but they are a sign you’ve had a lot of sun exposure). Still, some folks have them removed for cosmetic reasons.
You can try an at-home treatment to get rid of your sunspots at home. If that doesn’t work, there are treatments and procedures you can have professionally done. Just be sure you stick to a skin care pro like a board certified dermatologist.