You’ve been covering up that flat, brown spot on your face for a while now, but will it ever go away? Is it a sunspot or is it something worse?
Many people start to notice darker spots develop on their skin as they age. While some of these spots are a natural part of aging, other spots could be precancerous. If you’ve noticed dark spots surfacing on your face, chest, and arms, you may be dealing with sunspots.
What Are Sunspots?
“Sunspot” is a generalized term for a dark area on the skin due to sun exposure. In dermatology, we refer to these marks as “lentigos” — benign spots on the skin that develop from sun exposure over time.
Sunspots are not dangerous, but their appearance often bothers patients. There’s no medical reason to remove sunspots, but dermatologists have multiple ways to help them fade for patients wanting better cosmetic results.
What Causes Sunspots?
Sunspots begin to appear after years of sun exposure. Typically, patients start to notice these browns spots on their forearms, backs of their hands, face, and chest in their mid-30s to early 40s.
While anyone can develop sunspots, some people are genetically predisposed to develop more of them. What causes sunspots is somewhat genetically-determined by the amount of pigment in your skin. This means patients with more pigmentation, such as people of Hispanic or African American heritage, may see sunspots more frequently than Caucasian patients.
Sunspots vs. Moles: How to Tell the Difference
To the untrained eye, sunspots can be hard to distinguish from moles or other pigmentation irregularities on the skin. That’s why it’s important to keep up with routine skin screenings. Visit your dermatologist annually, or anytime you notice new or changing spots develop on your skin.
A dermatologist will be able to observe these changes and distinguish what’s dangerous from what’s not. Then, whether you want a cosmetic treatment or need medical treatment, they’ll help you navigate the best way to deal with your spot.
How Can I Remove Sunspots?
If you want to remove sunspots, you have a lot of treatment options, ranging from topical creams you apply at home to in-office chemical peels, freezing treatments, and laser treatments. One treatment isn’t typically enough, so it’s likely you will need multiple treatments in order to completely remove your sunspots.
Most patients use a topical cream and chemical peel in combination. We then follow up with an additional chemical peel every 1-2 years to freshen up the skin and remove any new spots. Sunspots can return over time with increased exposure.
Topical Treatment Options
Even within topical treatments, patients have multiple options of how to proceed with treatment. There are over-the-counter treatments for sunspots available, but prescription topical treatments are much more effective.
Tretinoin (a vitamin A derivative) can be helpful in preventing new spots from forming. Prescription lightening creams such as hydroquinone can be compounded and prescribed by your physician to fade the spots.
Newer medications without hydroquinone are also an option if you want a more natural approach to removing sunspots. We recommend SkinMedica’s Lytera 2.0, ZO’s Brightalive, or Epionce’s MelanoLyte skin brightening system.
You don’t have to live with those dark spots anymore. If you’ve noticed a spot on your skin, visit your dermatologist for an evaluation. If it’s a mole, they’ll guide you to your next right step. If it’s a sunspot, you can stop trying to cover it up and start making it disappear. Give us a call and we’ll find the best treatment for you.
Dr. Julia Kreger is a board-certified dermatologist in Glenwood and Vail, CO. She specializes in the prevention, early detection, and treatment of skin cancer, as well as improving the aesthetics of patients’ skin. Dr. Kreger is an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society of Mohs Surgery, the Women’s Dermatologic Society, and the Colorado Dermatologic Society. In her spare time, she is an avid outdoorswoman, having climbed 95 of Colorado’s Centennial Peaks. She enjoys skiing, long distance running, and spending time with her fiancé and three dogs.
Learn more about Dr. Kreger.