What can I do about sun spots?

Aren’t we women a lucky bunch? From adult acne to oily pores to dry and patchy skin, we’re treated to a full array of skin issues that tend to crop up more regularly as we age — and sun spots are yet another fabulous skin complaint we can add to the list. If your sun spots trouble you, what can you do about it?

middle aged woman looking in mirror

Winding back

the (aging) clock

Aren’t we women a lucky bunch? From adult acne to oily pores to dry and patchy skin, we’re treated to a full array of skin issues that tend to crop up more regularly as we age — and sun spots are yet another fabulous skin complaint we can add to the list. If your sun spots trouble you, what can you do about it?

Assess your skin

Before you begin thinking about treatment options for your sun spots (also known as age spots), you first need to make sure you’re not dealing with anything nasty lurking under the surface. “Sun spots usually appear on the areas exposed to sun, such as the face, neck, arms and shoulders, and they may range in colour from light brown to red or black,” explains Dr. Inese Robertus from the Dr. Robertus Laser and Cosmetic Clinic in Ontario. “Sun spots are usually harmless, and they do not cause any other symptoms. However, if you notice rapid change in the size, colour or shape of a sun spot, you should consult a medical doctor.”

Remember, prevention is better than cure

Sun spots are caused by uneven distribution of melanin, a skin pigment produced in response to the sun’s rays. Its main purpose is to help protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation, but “from age 40 onwards, our skin is less capable to repair itself from sun damage, and age spots begin to develop… especially if [you] spend a lot of time in the sunlight,” Dr. Robertus says. “As sunlight is the cause of the sun spots, exposure to sun makes the spots darker. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light from tanning beds may also lead to brown spots.”

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Visit your pharmacy

According to the Canadian Optic & Laser Center, 74 per cent of Canadian women claim to have an uneven skin tone or sun spots, so if you’re despairing about your skin’s melanin overload, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Dr. Jennifer Upitis, medical director of the Oak Ridges Dermatology Centre and president-elect of the Canadian Association of Aesthetic Medicine, says there are plenty of at-home treatments you can use to help you smooth out the appearance of age spots. “These include creams with vitamin C, retinols and bleaching ingredients in them,” Dr. Upitis says. “Hydroquinone is another ingredient in creams that can help reduce the appearance of age spots.”

Exfoliate regularly

While using a skin lightening agent or bleaching cream is the most effective over-the-counter method you can use to fade age spots, you can also try to actively improve your skin’s tone and generate new skin cells with regular exfoliating. Look for specific exfoliation products that address age spots and perhaps even an exfoliant that contains alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) exfoliation. Note that products containing AHA might increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so you’ll need to ramp up your use of sunscreen and/or limit sun exposure while using skin care products with AHA.

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Consider IPL

For more severe or serious sun spot concerns, you could consider photorejuvenation, a non-invasive rejuvenation technique also known as IPL (intense pulsed light). “It involves high-intensity pulsations of light, not lasers, passing through the skin, and it is non-ablative, meaning no skin is removed,” explains surgical dermatologist Dr. Manish Khanna. “The result is an exfoliation of damaged skin, coupled with the stimulation of collagen production on the skin’s surface… The treatment can be used effectively on the face, neck, chest and hands, and it doesn’t contain harmful UV light, so it’s a very safe, effective and established treatment.”

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