Sunspots, medically called solar lentigines or unsavorily referred to as liver spots, are dark spots on the skin usually caused by prolonged sun exposure. While sunspots on the skin are medically harmless many people find them irritating – they are one of the first signs of aging. Anyone can get sunspots although they are more noticeable on people with lighter skin. The darkened skin is typically caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays but occasionally the condition can be a result of a fungus or actinic keratoses, which cause a more brownish-red color.
Sunspots are most common on the hands, face and neck – the skin that sees the most sun. But unlike grey hair that you can dye or freckles that you can minimize with powder, sunspots are tougher to disguise. The pigment goes deeper and is more concentrated than freckles.
To prevent sunspots, using sunscreen daily is dermatologists’ top recommendation. Nonetheless they are impossible to avoid completely. There are many natural and cosmetic procedures to lessen their appearance.
Professional and medical treatments:
Topical treatments that include the ingredient hydroquinone bleach the spots and are often used several months at a time. To get an effective dose, you’ll need a doctor’s prescription. Sometimes a hydroquinone cream is combined with Retin-A (typically used to treat acne) because it can help the cream penetrate deeper into the skin.
Lasers can also be used to treat some sunspots. Lasers do not remove the blemishes. Instead they make the skin shed the outer layers so the pigmented skin is closer to surface and can be exfoliated off. This treatment can cost several hundred dollars to $1,000 per treatment and also requires a doctor’s go-ahead.
Chemical peels can also decrease the appearance of sunspots. Dermatologists and some spas perform the procedure, which uses acids to remove the outer layer of skin. The success of peels is less certain than lasers and can leave skin red for several days.
Cryotherapy is another growing treatment for sunspots on the skin. Cryotherapy freezes the sunspots using liquid nitrogen. The freezing nitrogen causes damage to the cells similar to burning. The skin may blister and ulcer, but when the sore heals, the spot should be gone. Usually only a single treatment is required and scarring is rare.
Bleaching creams available from drug stores or higher-end creams from department stores are readily available. However, these are not nearly as effective as a prescription-strength cream. Check for products that contain Kojic acid (a by-product from the production of Sake), Tretinoin, Renova or azelaic acid (derived from wheat or rye grains).
If you suspect the sunspot is caused by a fungus, a dandruff shampoo with selenium sulfide can help.
Applying a slice of lemon or lime for 10 to 15 minutes per day can lighten spots as can a slice of red onion rubbed over the spots. The acid in these foods can help lighten the pigments and remove dead skin cells. Some people also recommend applying buttermilk for a few minutes each day. Other variations include apple cider vinegar with crushed pieces of fresh onion that you dab on daily for at least six weeks.
You can also try breaking open vitamin E capsules and using the gel directly on the spots – the same way it helps fade scars it will help fade sunspots.
Green tea can also help, Steep a green tea bag in boiling water for a few minutes, squeeze the bag onto a cotton ball, and rub it over the spots twice a day. The antioxidants help the skin heal. Aloe Vera gel (try twice a day) can also help the skin heal itself.
If you decide to use any remedy to lighten sunspots on the skin, it is important to remember to cover the treated areas daily with sunscreen. The skin with be more sensitive to light than before and therefore at a greater risk for burning and new sunspots.
Lastly be on the lookout for discolorations that may not actually be sunspots. Keep an eye out for spots that grow, have an irregular shape, change shape or color. If you’re not sure, see a dermatologist.