Sunspots on Skin: Causes, Types, and Treatment Options

While we all love soaking up in the sun, the sun’s UV rays can be damaging to our skin.

Our exposure to dangerous UV rays, called photoaging, is responsible for 90% of skin changes. While exposure to UV rays heightens your risk of skin cancer, too much sun exposure can also have some cosmetic effects.

A common example is developing sunspots. While sunspots are generally harmless, many of those affected take measures to reduce their appearance.

Here’s everything you need to know about sunspots on skin.

Sunspots On Skin: What Causes Them?

Sunspots are the result of overactive pigment cells.

The sun’s UV rays cause our skin cells to overproduce melanin, which is a dark pigment produced by a group of cells called melanocytes. Melanin is responsible for our hair and eye color as well as the effect when we tan.

When you’re exposed to the sun for years, the melanin becomes clumped. This results in the spotty-like appearance of sunspots that are scattered throughout the face and body.

In addition to prolonged sun exposure, tanning beds may also cause sunspots.

What Do Sunspots Look Like?

Sunspots vary in size in shape. Some are large while others look like a tiny freckle. Those with many sunspots may have blotches which are several sunspots clustered into one larger spot.

They’re a darker pigment; colors vary between tan and black. Sunspots are usually oval in shape. They’re flat — raised spots are moles.

Sunspot Types

While sunspots are generally the same, your skin can produce other spots that look similar to sunspots. Here’s the difference.

Sunspots (Age Spots)

Sunspots are often confused with other spots such as freckles. However, they have their differences. Sunspots are larger and their placement is more sporadic.

They also only appear on areas of the skin exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and arms.


Melasma looks similar to sunspots but their causes are completely different. Hormonal changes are responsible for melasma. Women typically get these spots during pregnancy. Don’t worry, melasma is harmless.


Moles have different causes. Some are also the result of sun exposure. Others form naturally, similar to birthmarks. However, a mole is usually the first sign of skin cancer. Unlike sunspots, moles are usually raised.

You can easily identify a cancerous mole by looking at the shape. Cancerous moles are typically asymmetric and have irregular borders.


Freckles are hereditary. They usually first form during early childhood. But their cause is similar to sunspots — the skin producing extra melanin to defend the skin from sunlight.

However, those with freckles usually have a similar gene (MC1R) that also results in paleness. This can put you at risk for developing skin cancer.

Treatment Options

While sunspots aren’t dangerous, there are ways you can brighten them and even out your skin tone. Here are a few treatment options.

At-Home Treatment

Most people have a variety of at-home treatment methods. While these methods aren’t as powerful as professional treatment, they can help fade sunspots.

Skincare products you can use include:

  • Cleansers
  • Moisturizers
  • Spot treatments
  • Masks
  • Serums

You should also look for certain skin brightening ingredients. These include:

  • Hydroxy acid
  • Glycolic acid
  • Hydroquinone
  • Kojic acid
  • Deoxyarbutin

There are also natural skin brightening ingredients. These include:

  • Licorice extract
  • Vitamin C
  • Aloe vera
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Honey

Look for these ingredients in all of your skincare products.

Intense Pulse Light

Light therapy is becoming a more common sun spot reduction method.

This type of therapy uses light energy to destroy the melanin. This type of therapy causes no pain and each session is relatively short. However, the amount of sessions you need depends on the severity of your sunspots.

Laser Resurfacing

This treatment uses a laser that removes the layers of sun-damaged skin.

This helps healthy skin cells grow back in its place. Because you’re removing layers of the skin, it may take a while for your skin to heal and for the new skin cells to grow.

Chemical Peels

Chemical peels consist of an acid that removes the sun-damaged layers of skin, making way for new skin cells to grow. Chemical peels can be painful and are not recommended for those with sensitive skin.


Cryotherapy freezes off sunspots with liquid nitrogen. However, nitrous oxide is another option because it’s less aggressive. Cryotherapy is quick and doesn’t usually cause pain.


Microdermabrasion removes the outer layer of dead skin cells.

The tools used consist of an abrasive applicator followed by gentle suction. The treatment takes at least an hour but is painless. Your skin may be sensitive following the treatment; however, this is only temporary.

How to Prevent Sun Spots

While there are treatment options, it’s recommended everyone takes strides to prevent sunspots.

Reduce sun exposure. If you don’t have to, don’t leave your home during the times when the sun is at its strongest (usually between 10 A.M. and 3 P.M.).

If you’re out in the sun, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects your skin from UVA and UVB sun rays.

Wear sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30. Apply sunscreen every two hours if you plan on staying in the sun for long periods of time.

To ensure you wear sunscreen, most makeup products, such as BB and CC creams, are made with sunscreen. You can also find moisturizers made with sunscreen.

It’s also best to keep your skin covered while out in the sun. Wear long sleeves and pants. Cover your face with a wide-brimmed hat.

Remove Your Sun Spots

Do you have sun spots on skin? Don’t worry, there are treatment options available to help fade them. We use the PicoWay Resolve Laser, which helps eliminate sunspots from the inside.

Contact us and book an appointment. We’re based in San Diego.