Sun Spots on Face: What Causes Them—and How to Treat Them

If you’ve spent any time in the sun throughout your life, you may have developed some sun spots on your face. These spots (also called age spots, liver spots, or solar lentigines) appear as flat, smooth, brown spots on areas of your skin that tend to get a lot of sun exposure.

Sun spots are generally harmless areas of pigmented skin, but they can be easily confused with other types of sun-related spots on the skin, including some that may actually be a sign of skin cancer. If you think you have sun spots on your face, it’s important to monitor them and to get anything that looks iffy checked out by a board-certified dermatologist.

Here’s what you need to know about sun spots, how to prevent them, how dermatologists can treat or remove them, and signs to look for that may signal an issue.

What causes sun spots on your face?

Sun spots on your face are a type of hyperpigmentation caused by UV exposure. Essentially, after being exposed to the sun, your skin increases production of melanin, the pigment that gives skin color. Over time, some areas of your skin may develop clumps of melanin or may overproduce that pigment, resulting in a sun spot, the Mayo Clinic explains.

These types of spots tend to show up on areas of your body where you get the most sun, which might include your face, shoulders, hands, chest, and the back of your hands, Mary L. Stevenson, M.D., assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. Sun spots tend to be flat rather than raised, are usually brown, and may appear in clusters.

What’s the best way to prevent sun spots?

The best way to prevent sun spots on your face is to develop and maintain solid sun safety habits. “They can be prevented with diligent sun protection including use of sunscreen on regular basis, and other forms of sun protection like hats, sun glasses, and clothing,” Nada Elbuluk, M.D., clinical assistant professor of dermatology (clinician educator), Keck School of Medicine of USC, tells SELF.

That includes using broad spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) every day, particularly on areas of your body that are prone to sun exposure, like your face, shoulders, and back of your hands. Sun spots are more likely to show up on people with lighter skin, Dr. Elbuluk says, but people with darker skin tones can still develop sun-related skin damage so it’s important for everyone to wear sunscreen regularly.

But we know that it’s a bit difficult to stick to diligent sunscreen wearing (and reapplication) habits—and even perfect sunscreen usage doesn’t protect you from 100% of the sun’s rays. That’s why it’s crucial to also use other sun protection strategies, like wearing sun protective clothing, sticking to the shade whenever possible, and wearing hats and sunglasses that block the sun.

Products to try:

  • EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 ($38, Dermstore)
  • Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer Dry Touch Sunscreen SPF 30 ($10, Amazon)
  • La Roche Posay Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen Gentle Lotion SPF 50 ($22, Amazon)

What’s the best way to treat sun spots?

True sun spots are not harmful and don’t need to be treated. If you do decide you want to have your sun spots treated or removed, this is something you’ll likely have to see a professional about. Although you can certainly try some products containing the classic brightening ingredients, like hydroquinone, retinoids, or vitamin C, “over-the-counter products are typically not strong enough to have a significant effect on sun spots,” Dr. Elbuluk explains.

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Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson is a short story author, novelist, and award-winning poet. She has work appearing or forthcoming in over forty venues, including Black Static, Fireside, and Buzzy Mag. When she’s not frightening strangers with her writing, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their two mischievous cats.

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