Who doesn’t love the energizing feeling of the warm sun hitting their skin? We humans seem to be drawn to sunlight, but basking in the sun can have long-term negative effects on your skin. Prolonged exposure to UV rays leads to premature aging, including fine lines and wrinkles, decreased elasticity of the skin (aka sagging skin), and hyperpigmentation, otherwise known as dark spots or liver spots. Dark spots are one of the most common concerns of people who’ve spent too many hours in the sun. What can be done to correct dark spots caused by the sun? Here are some proven professional treatments and home remedies:
- (MOST IMPORTANT!) HAVE A DOCTOR CHECK OUT YOUR DARK SPOTS. We all know that spending time in the sun comes with an increased risk for skin cancer. It’s very important to have a dermatologist check your freckles, moles, and dark spots to make sure that they’re not cancerous or precancerous. Once you’ve determined that your dark spots are benign, you can proceed with finding the right treatment plan for you.
- LASER TREATMENT: Lasers can penetrate the skin to break down darkly pigmented areas. A reputable medical spa or dermatology clinic will be able to review the different options for laser treatment with you. Laser treatment will leave the skin with a sunburned appearance, and within a few days the skin will start to peel and the dark spot will gradually disappear. If you expose the same area of skin to the sun without protection, then dark spots will return. Laser treatment ranges in cost from $100 for a very small area of skin to over $4,000 for extensive procedures.
- CRYOTHERAPY: This treatment involves applying liquid nitrogen to the dark spots, which effectively freezes them off. The freezing temperature kills skin cells in a way that’s similar to burning, and the skin blisters and then peels away. It will take 2 to 4 weeks for dark spots to completely fade. Medical spas and dermatology clinics can perform cryotherapy, with prices starting at $500 per treatment.
- CHEMICAL PEEL: A chemical peel will remove the top two layers of skin, and this injury to the skin provokes a healing response that removes the melanin from highly pigmented areas. Chemical peels are generally applied to the entire face, and most often involve a high concentration of glycolic acid or another alpha/beta hydroxy acid. After a chemical peel, your skin will appear red and sunburned, and dry, but most people heal quickly. You can get a chemical peel at most spas where facials are offered, as well as at medical spas and dermatology clinics. Chemical peels run anywhere from $100 to $500.
- PRESCRIPTIONS: Dermatologists can prescribe hydroquinone or Retinoids to treat dark spots. With a prescription, hydroquinone is available at a 4% concentration, but it’s also available over-the-counter at 2% strength. Retinoids over 2% concentration require a prescription, but there are many over-the-counter products available at 2% and below. Many people find that they can get good results from over-the-counter versions of both hydroquinone and Retinoids, so you may want to save some money and try the readily available, less expensive products first.
- (MOST IMPORTANT!) PREVENTION IS KEY! Prolonged sun exposure damages the skin. You may not start to see the damage until later in life, but eventually it will show up. Therefore, the most important thing you can do to improve your skin’s appearance is to wear sunscreen and limit sun exposure. Sunscreen is also important because once dark marks have been treated and reduced, they are very prone to returning. If you repeatedly expose your skin to the sun again, the dark spots will return with a vengeance.
- OVER-THE-COUNTER SERUMS AND CREAMS: There are many excellent products available to correct dark marks, ranging from inexpensive brands that can be found at drugstores to luxury skincare lines. Some of these products also help to improve fine lines and sagging skin.
- RETINOIDS are available in concentrations at 2% and below without a prescription. There are countless brands to choose from. Retinoids also help reduce fine lines and wrinkles and improve the skin’s elasticity.
- HYDROQUINONE is also widely available and has been proven to be very effective in fading dark marks. If you are only seeking the reduction of hyperpigmentation then this may be a good place to start. However, hydroquinone does not improve the other visible signs of sun damage like wrinkles and sagging skin.
- ALPHA & BETA HYDROXY ACIDS: Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid can all fade dark marks as well as improve the other signs of aging. They are available in different concentrations and blends. Amongst these acids, mandelic stands out because it is less irritating than other acids and because it can disrupt the formation of new dark marks with continued usage.
- Whatever the serum or cream you choose, it’s important to use the product consistently over time. All topical treatments take months to see a significant correction of dark marks, so make sure to consistently adhere to your skincare routine.