Sunspots, also known as liver spots or solar lentigines, are very common. Anyone can get sunspots, but they are more common in people with fair skin and those older than 40.
They are flat brown spots that develop on the skin after sun exposure (during which, UV radiation causes pigmented skin cells called melanocytes to multiply).
They vary in shape and size and usually occur on the areas of your body that have had the most sun exposure, such as your face, shoulders, forearms, and backs of your hands.
True sunspots are harmless and noncancerous but can be treated for cosmetic purposes.
There are several at-home and professional procedures that can remove or lessen the appearance of sunspots on your face.
The following are some at-home treatments that may help fade or remove sunspots on your face:
- Aloe vera. Studies have found that aloesin and aloin, which are active compounds found in aloe vera plants, can lighten sunspots and other hyperpigmentation.
- Licorice extract. Some of the active ingredients in licorice extract may help lighten sunspots and other skin discoloration aggravated by sun exposure, such as melasma, which is common in pregnant women and referred to as “the mask of pregnancy.” Many topical creams for lightening sunspots include licorice extract.
- Vitamin C. This natural antioxidant has several benefits when it comes to your skin and the sun. Topical L-ascorbic acid protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays, promotes collagen production, and has been found to be effective in lightening dark spots.
- Vitamin E. A diet rich in vitamin E, and taking a vitamin E supplement, offers protection against sun damage and can improve your skin’s health, especially when taken together with vitamin C. Applying vitamin E oil provides even more benefits for your skin against sun damage and may help lighten sunspots.
- Apple cider vinegar. Acetic acid, which is found in apple cider vinegar, may help lighten skin pigmentation and improve the overall appearance of your skin.
- Green tea. Some websites suggest that applying green tea bags to the skin can help fade sunspots. While there isn’t any scientific evidence specifically on the effectiveness of green tea bags, green tea extract has been shown to have a depigmenting effect.
- Black tea water. A 2011 study found that black tea water had a skin-lightening effect on tanned spots on guinea pigs when applied twice daily, six days a week over four weeks.
- Red onion. Dried red onion skin contains ingredients that could lighten the skin, according to a study published in 2010.
- Lemon juice. Lemon juice has long been used as a home remedy for lightening hair and skin, and is a common ingredient in skin lightening creams. While many will swear by lemon juice’s ability to fade sunspots, lemon juice is acidic and can cause drying as well as irritate the skin and eyes.
- Buttermilk. The lactic acid in buttermilk may help lighten sunspots when applied to the skin.
- Milk. Just like buttermilk, milk is high in lactic acid that may help lighten sunspots. Sour milk has been shown effective in treating skin discoloration.
- Honey. Full of antioxidants, honey has been used in skin products for years. It is believed to promote new cell growth and may help fade sunspots when applied to the skin.
- Over-the-counter creams. There are many topical creams available over the counter that you can apply at home to remove sunspots on your face. Look for creams containing glycolic acid, hydroxy acid, hydroquinone, kojic acid, or deoxyarbutin.
There are a few professional treatments available that can remove sunspots or significantly reduce their appearance. These treatments should all be performed by a trained skin care professional.
- Laser resurfacing. During laser resurfacing, a wand-like device is used to deliver beams of light that remove sun damaged skin layer by layer. New skin is then able to grow in its place. Laser resurfacing on the face can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours depending on how many sunspots are being treated. Healing typically takes anywhere from 10 to 21 days.
- Intense pulse light (IPL). IPL uses pulses of light energy to target sunspots on the skin. It does this by heating and destroying the melanin, which removes the discolored spots. An IPL session usually takes less than 30 minutes and causes little to no pain. The number of sessions needed varies from person to person.
- Cryotherapy. Cryotherapy removes sunspots and other skin lesions by freezing them off with a liquid nitrogen solution. Nitrous oxide may be used (instead of liquid nitrogen) for the treatment of superficial dark spots, such as sunspots, because it’s not as aggressive and is less likely to cause blistering. Cryotherapy takes just a few minutes and is generally well-tolerated.
- Chemical peels. This procedure involves applying an acid solution to skin, which creates a controlled wound that eventually peels off, making way for new skin. Chemical peels can be painful and cause a burning sensation that lasts a few minutes, but this can be treated with cold compresses and over-the-counter pain medication.
- Microdermabrasion. Microdermabrasion involves gently removing the outermost layer of your skin using a special applicator with an abrasive tip, followed by suction to remove the dead skin. It takes approximately one hour, causes little to no pain, and doesn’t require anesthetic. Your skin will be pink and feel tight following the treatment, but this is only temporary.
Sunspots are harmless and don’t pose any risks to your health. They don’t need to be treated and your doctor can usually tell the difference between a sunspot and something more serious, like skin cancer, just by looking at it.
The treatments for sunspots are generally safe, but as with any medical treatment or procedure, there is always some risk. Always speak to doctor before using any home treatments.
Any professional procedures should be performed by a board-certified dermatologist to minimize risk and ensure the best results.
See your doctor about any spot on your skin that concerns you, especially a spot that has changed in appearance or:
- is dark
- is growing in size
- has an irregular boarder
- is itchy, painful, red, or bleeding
- is unusual in color
You may be able to prevent sunspots on your face by limiting your exposure to UVA and UVB rays. You can do this by:
- avoiding the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- applying sunscreen before going outdoors and reapplying it every two hours
- choosing makeup products that contain sunscreen
- covering your skin with clothing and hats
Sunspots are harmless but can be effectively treated if you’re bothered by them.
Any spots on your skin that are dark or change in appearance should be evaluated by your doctor.