Comedones are a common type of acne. This term refers to clogged pores, which look like small bumps in the skin.

If the comedones are due to prolonged sun exposure, they’re called solar comedones. But despite the name, these are different from acne.

Solar comedones are noninflammatory and appear symmetrically on your face. They’re typically found along your temple and around your eyes. Sometimes, they can show up on the side of your neck, earlobes, and forearms.

Solar comedones are also known as:

  • senile comedones
  • sun acne
  • nodular elastosis with cysts and comedones
  • Favre-Racouchot syndrome

The condition is most common in middle-age and older adults. Approximately 6 percent of adults ages 50 and over have solar comedones.

If you’re curious about solar comedones and what causes them, read on.

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Solar comedones are small skin-colored or dark bumps that appear in areas exposed to sunlight for long periods of time. Dermnet New Zealand.

Though the specific cause of solar comedones is unknown, researchers have determined possible factors.

These include:

Chronic sun exposure

Solar comedones are commonly associated with long-term sun exposure. That’s why they’re often seen in exposed areas of the body, like the sides of your temple.

Chronic sun exposure can happen after many years spent working an outdoor job, like farming. It can also be related to years of frequent sunbathing.

It’s unclear how exactly sunlight causes solar comedones. However, it’s likely due to damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation, a form of energy produced by sunlight.

UV radiation can damage DNA in your skin cells and cause premature skin aging.

The radiation can also damage the elastic tissue in your skin, leading to solar elastosis. This causes thickened, yellowish, and severe wrinkling. It’s often seen with solar comedones.

It’s hypothesized that solar comedones due to sun exposure affect men more frequently than women.

Heavy smoking

Smoking cigarettes for many years can also contribute to solar comedones.

In fact, it can act synergistically with sun exposure. This means the effects of both factors can interact and increase your risk of solar comedones.

There are some theories on how smoking increases your risk.

Cigarette smoke contains harmful chemicals, some of which may damage your skin. The heat from a lit cigarette might also produce radiation.

However, more research is necessary to understand how smoking specifically contributes to solar comedones.

Radiation therapy

A less common cause is radiation therapy. It uses radiation to treat cancer, but it can also damage the skin. In rare cases, this could lead to comedones and other lesions.

Solar comedones related to radiation therapy can develop during or after the treatment. They can show up between 2 weeks and 6 months after therapy is completed.

The comedones can also show up anywhere on the body, but they typically appear on face, neck, and scalp.

If you have solar comedones, you’ll have different types of bumps.

Closed (whiteheads)

Closed comedones, or whiteheads, are plugged pores that have closed over. They look like small white or skin-colored bumps, depending on your skin tone.

Typically, solar comedones start as whiteheads. They eventually turn into open comedones over time.

Open (blackheads)

Open comedones, or blackheads, are clogged pores that aren’t sealed. The top of the pore is open, revealing a black spot.

The black spot isn’t dirt, though. It’s oil that has been exposed to air.

Solar comedones are not cancerous. For most people, they’re more of a cosmetic concern.

However, the main causes of solar comedones have other risks. Chronic sun exposure and cigarette smoking increase the risk of:

Smoking cigarettes also increases the risk of:

  • heart disease and stroke
  • lung diseases
  • cancer almost anywhere in the body
  • infertility
  • poor bone health

So, while solar comedones aren’t directly harmful, their causes are associated with other health issues.

Treatment for solar comedones typically includes a combination of:

  • medication
  • surgical techniques
  • lifestyle changes

Solar comedones extraction

Comedones can be manually removed. Your health provider uses a device called a comedo extractor to squeeze the bumps and unblock your pores.

Although this treatment is effective, the comedones will likely return.

Other surgical techniques

A doctor might use the following treatments instead of extractions:

The best option depends on the severity of your comedones.

Topical retinoids

Topical retinoids are medications designed to unclog pores. They exfoliate your skin and promote collagen formation, which can help reduce comedones.

A dermatologist may suggest over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription retinoids.

Topical retinoids can dry out the skin, so it’s important to avoid using too much too soon. It’s recommended to apply a light moisturizer after using a retinoid.

Decreasing the frequency of retinoid application may make it more tolerable for your skin.

Lifestyle changes

You’ll also be asked to make several lifestyle changes to slow down the formation of solar comedones.

This includes:

  • avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. or wearing a hat if you do need to go outdoors
  • applying broad-spectrum sunscreen (at least SPF 30)
  • quitting smoking, if you smoke (this is often difficult, but a doctor can help craft a plan that works for you)

Solar comedones are often related to prolonged sun exposure or cigarette smoking. In some people, they’re caused by radiation therapy.

These comedones include whiteheads and blackheads, but they’re not inflamed — unlike the comedones seen in regular acne.

The comedones can be treated with topical retinoids and extraction. However, it’s still important to cut back on sun exposure and cigarette smoking to prevent more comedones from forming.