Too much sun can cause a host of skin problems. Of these, skin cancer and wrinkles tend to get most of the attention, but sun spots are yet another casualty of tanning. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. All those long,dreamy days spent surfside have left their marks –and they are not pretty. These dark skin patches go by many names including brown spots, age spots, dark spots, sun spots, liver spots, solar lentigos, or lentigines.
Here’s what happens: Exposure to the sun causes an increase in the production of melanocytes. These cells trigger the release of the pigment melanin in the skin, resulting in dark patches that are flat, brown and show up on parts of the body where we get the most sun exposure. Think backs of the hands, forearms, shins, neck, chest, and of course, the face and nose.
The best way to get rid of brown spots is to never get them in the first place. Prevention is all about the religious use of sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone use sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays, has an Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and is water resistant to coat all skin that is not be covered by clothing while you are outdoors. This should be done daily, not just on beach days or the hot, hazy, lazy days of August.
If you already have brown spots from sun exposure, there are several treatments that can make a difference in their appearance . Hydroquinone and retinol are widely considered the first line of therapy.
Hydroquinone is a skin lightening agent, while retinol increases cell turnover, circulation and cell regeneration to move the pigment up and out faster. Hydroquinone up to 2% can be found in skin brightening products that you can buy at a drugstore, spa or beauty counter, but 4% and over requires a prescription from your doctor.
Next up are chemical peels containing salicylic acid or glycolic acid. These may be used in combination with skin brightening products for faster results. Peels remove the layers of skin that contain the age spots, discoloration, wrinkles, or other imperfections. A series of light peels will likely be needed to see improvements in your brown spots, or your dermatologist may recommend a one-time stronger, deeper peel.
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) devices may also be effective to fade prominent dark spots or pigmentation. IPL blasts short high-intensity light underneath the surface of the skin to lighten dark spots. Lasers are considered the big guns, and there are many types available for skin resurfacing, such as Fraxel®. Your decision may be based on the number of areas you want to have treated,as well as how much downtime you are willing to accept. Generally, the stronger the energy the laser emits, the more redness, flaking and peeling you will have.
See a dermatologist or plastic surgeon to evaluate your brown spots and recommend the best treatment for you.