Skin Journal
Pigmentation and sun spot removal: What you need to know
Author:
Kaitlyn Wilson
Reviewed by:

While we love the warm feeling of the sun on our skin, our skin does not love the sun and sun spots are often an unwelcome side effect of exposure to UV rays. However, the sun is not the only thing that causes these pesky spots.

Age, acne scars, genetics and other skin conditions all affect our skin tone and can cause pigmentation.

On a more important note, hyperpigmentation isn't just an aesthetic issue. These lesions can be early warning signs for many types of skin cancer, which is why it's important to seek professional advice early if you think a lesion is changing in appearance.

Whatever the reason for your hyperpigmentation, there are several ways you can prevent, fade and even eliminate sun spots altogether.

Here's what you need to know about sun spots — from the causes to the best treatment options.

Types of sun spots

Just as there are many causes on these lesions, there are also many types of sunspots. The most common types of sunspots are:

  • Actinic keratosis
  • Freckles
  • Melasma
  • Sunspots (age spots, liver spots)

What is actinic keratosis?

Actinic keratoses are pre-cancerous lesions that appear on the skin. They are small, dry and scaley skin patches that can look pink, red, brown or even a combination of colours. They can be raised or flat but are usually always tough in texture.

They are commonly found on the face, lips, neck and ears and places that are frequently exposed to the sun.

These lesions form from long-term and frequent exposure to UV rays and put you at a significantly higher risk of skin cancer [1].

While only 5-10% of AKs develop into cancers, if left untreated, they can become life-threatening, with the majority of squamous cell carcinomas (the most common forms of skin cancer) starting as AKs.

This is why you should always wear sunscreen daily, get regular skin checks and see your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any skin changes or sun spots forming.

What causes sun spots?

Age spots, sun spots, liver spots — no matter the name, the cause all comes down to a substance called melanin. You've probably heard of this before, but do you actually know what it is and what it does to our skin?

Basically, this is the pigment that gives colour to our eyes, hair and skin. if you have darker hair and skin, you produce more melanin than those with pale skin.

However, the amount of melanin you produce depends on a few things, such as genetics and sun exposure [2]. Sun spots and hyperpigmentation form when the skin cells which produce melanin become damaged or unhealthy. This causes them to produce excess pigment which then clumps and clusters, causing spots.

While sun exposure is one of the leading causes of hyperpigmentation, it can also be caused by age, lifestyle, diet, hormones, adrenal disorders, acne scars, and even certain medications [3].

Are sun spots dangerous?

Generally classified as harmless areas of pigment, most sun spots are not dangerous. However, they can be an indicator of seriously sun-damaged skin and can sometimes be hard to tell apart from varying types of skin cancers and AK.

You should carefully monitor any changes in pigmentation.

Some signs to look out for are:

  • Thickening of the skin around the pigment
  • Skin colour changes
  • The size of the spot increases rapidly
  • The sunspot is larger than 1cm
  • The site is red or raised
  • If the spot ulcerates or bleeds
  • There are multiple sun spots [4].

Can you prevent sun spots?

Excessive sun exposure is one of the leading causes of pigmentation, so in order to prevent sun spots, you must protect your skin from sun damage.

The best ways to prevent sunspots and protect your skin from UV radiation include:

  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen and other sun protection
  • Wear sun protective clothing
  • Treat sun-damaged skin with aloe vera, moisturiser or medical treatments
  • Avoid sunlight where possible
  • Keep your skin hydrated

Can sun spots be removed?

While they may fade over time, there is no natural way to get rid of sunspots. Removing sun spots requires professional treatments and a range of high-quality products.

Some of the best treatment options for sun spot removal are:

Personalised skincare

No two skin types are the same, and the same is true for pigments. This is why it is essential to have customised products that are specifically tailored to your skin needs.

Software's prescription pigmentation treatment is formulated using medical grade ingredients including prescription retinoids, azelaic acid and hyaluronic acid, all of which fade sun spots and help to prevent hyperpigmentation from occurring again.

Alongside pigment-preventing ingredients, our experts will add additional ingredient goodies depending on your skin needs.

Laser treatment and intense pulsed light

Laser treatments are one of the most effective methods to remove age spots. Laser has the ability to destroy melanin-producing cells without damaging the surface layer of the skin.

The top layer of skin is removed over two or more sessions allowing new skin to form and eliminating pigment.

Dermabrasion

A rapidly rotating brush is used to sand off the top layer of skin. You will need a series of treatments over a few months; however, you should see results after each session.

Vitamin C serum

Vitamin C is particularly powerful when it comes to fighting age spots. Not only does it help to repair sun-damaged skin, but it also inhibits the melanin-forming enzyme tyrosinase. This works to fade spots and also prevents new ones from forming.

Software's Vitamin C + Ferulic Serum is one of the most potent vitamin C serums on the market and works to brighten skin and fade dark spots and discolouration. The addition of ferulic acid helps to develop collagen, rejuvenate the skin and improve elasticity and firmness.

How to reduce the appearance of sun spots

Anti-ageing products

Sun spots are also commonly referred to as age spots — this is not because they automatically develop with age, but because they are more common in those over 50.

However, this has more to do with prolonged sun exposure and skin health versus age. In saying that, some anti-ageing formulas can significantly reduce the appearance of sun spots, including Software's prescription ageing formula.

Designed by a board-certified dermatologist, these personalised formulas are designed for your skin and can contain medical-grade ingredients like retinoids to reduce dark pigment and niacinamide for fighting acne and lightening dark spots. It also stimulates collagen production and prevents dead skin cells from building up.

Chemical peels

Chemical peels using substances such as lactic acid resurface the skin. This can improve the appearance of your skin of sun spots and help fade acne scars while also helping to remove dead skin cells.

Microdermabrasion

This is the less intense sibling of dermabrasion, but it is still very effective in fading pigmentation.

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