Sunspots are flat brown spots that develop on areas of your skin that are exposed to the sun. They’re also known as liver spots, though they have nothing to do with your liver. Sunspots are harmless. They are noncancerous and don’t pose any risk to your health or require treatment unless you’re looking to remove them for cosmetic reasons.
There are many professional and at-home treatments that you can use to help fade or remove sunspots. We’ll explore these options along with tips for sunspot prevention. We’ll also explain how to distinguish between sunspots, birthmarks, and skin cancer.
- Aloe. Aloe vera contains active compounds, including aloin and aloesin, which have both been found to effectively lighten hyperpigmentation, including sunspots.
- Apple cider vinegar. The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar may help lighten sunspots when applied regularly, according to a 2009 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
- Black tea. A 2011 on guinea pig skin found that applying black tea water to tanned spots twice a day for four weeks had a skin-lightening effect.
- Green tea. Green tea extract has been found to have a depigmenting effect, according to a 2013 review in the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery.
- Licorice extract. Licorice extract is a common ingredient in many commercially available creams for sunspots because it’s been shown to lighten skin discoloration caused by sun damage.
- Milk. Milk, sour milk, and buttermilk contain lactic acid that may help lighten skin pigmentation, including sunspots. Research has shown it to be effective in lightening melasma.
- Vitamin C. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C offer several benefits related to the sun, including a protective effect against UVA and UVB rays. Applying vitamin C topically is also an effective way to lighten various dark spots caused by the sun.
- Vitamin E. Evidence suggests that dietary vitamin E and topical vitamin E oil help protect your skin against sun damage and lighten sunspots.
- Topical creams. There are several creams available over-the-counter that can be applied at home to fade sunspots. Creams containing hydroxy acid, glycolic acid, kojic acid, or deoxyarbutin are the most effective.
- Intense pulse light (IPL). IPL removes sunspots by heating and destroying melanin with pulses of light energy. You may need multiple sessions to achieve your desired result. Each session takes less than 30 minutes.
- Laser resurfacing. In laser skin resurfacing, a wand-like device delivers beams of light to the layers of your skin until the sunspots are no longer visible, allowing new skin to grow in its place. Healing can take from 10 to 21 days.
- Chemical peels. An acid solution applied to sunspots causes the skin to eventually peel away so that new skin can grow. Chemical peels may cause a burning sensation that lasts a few minutes and can be painful. Pain medication and cold compresses can help with discomfort as you heal.
- Cryotherapy. Cryotherapy is a fairly quick, in-office procedure that is effective in treating sunspots and other skin lesions. A liquid nitrogen solution or nitrous oxide is used to freeze off sunspots.
- Microdermabrasion. During this procedure, an applicator with an abrasive tip gently removes the outermost layer of your skin. This is followed by suction to remove dead skin. Microdermabrasion causes little to no pain. You may experience some temporary redness and tightness after the procedure.
- Microneedling. This minimally invasive cosmetic procedure uses small needles to prick the skin. A topical anesthetic may be applied prior to the procedure to help reduce discomfort. Microneedling is typically used to induce collagen production (making the skin firmer and smoother), help with acne scars, and decrease the appearance of sunspots. After this procedure, your skin will be slightly red and you may experience dryness and flakey skin over several days.
You can’t help but be concerned when you notice a dark spot on your skin. Certain features can help you distinguish between sunspots, birthmarks, and skin cancer:
Sunspots. These are flat areas of skin discoloration that can be tan or varying shades of brown. They appear on the parts of your body that get the most sun exposure, such as your face, shoulders, back, and the backs of your hands. They often start to appear around the age of 40, though some people may develop them earlier or later in life, depending on the amount of sun exposure they’ve had.
Melasma. This is another common skin problem that affects areas that get a lot of sun exposure, mainly the forehead, cheeks, nose, and upper lip. It causes brown or gray-brown patches on the skin, usually on the face. It’s more common in women, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Melasma may be triggered by hormones. It’s also very common during pregnancy and is often referred to as “the mask of pregnancy.” Melasma is noncancerous and more of an aesthetic concern than a medical one.
Freckles. Freckles are an inherited feature most often seen in fair-skinned people, especially those with red hair. Freckles are flat, brown spots that become more prominent in the summer, when you get more sun. They fade or disappear in the winter. Unlike sunspots, freckles become less noticeable as you age.
Birthmarks. There are two main types of birthmarks: pigmented and vascular. Birthmarks can be flat or raised, big or small, and can be various colors and shades, such as tan, brown, purple, red, and pale blue. Most birthmarks are harmless, but some can be associated with health problems.
Skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. Skin cancer results from the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells and can be caused by UV rays from the sun and tanning beds, or genetic mutations.
There are several types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type and melanoma is the deadliest. A new, changing, or growing mole or spot is a warning sign of possible skin cancer, along with lesions that itch, bleed, or don’t heal. Skin cancers also tend to have irregular borders.
Sunspots are harmless, but any spot that grows quickly, changes in appearance, or seems unusual should be evaluated by a doctor.
Sunspots don’t require any treatment and true sunspots are noncancerous and cannot become cancerous. They can be removed for cosmetic reasons, but leaving them doesn’t pose any risks to your health.
Though treatments are generally safe, some may cause temporary discomfort and redness. Speak to your doctor about the possible risks associated with each treatment.
The only way to prevent sunspots is to limit your exposure to UVA and UVB rays. To prevent sunspots:
- Don’t use tanning beds.
- Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Apply sunscreen before going outdoors.
- Reapply sunscreen regularly as directed.
- Choose cosmetics with an SPF.
- Cover your skin with clothing.
Sunspots are harmless and treating them is a matter of personal choice. If you’re concerned about a new or changing skin spot, see your doctor.