When people notice brown spots on their skin, it can be many different things—moles, freckles, melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, sun spots and age spots…
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"How can I get rid of brown spots caused by sun damage? Whitening cream?" —Kristina G.
When people notice brown spots on their skin, it can be many different things—moles, freckles, melasma, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, sun spots and age spots… the list goes on and on. Some of them can (and should!) be treated, but some are better left alone.
For many people, brown spots appear (or get noticeably darker) when they’re in the sun. This is because when our skin is exposed to UVA and UVB rays, our body produces melanin.
It's what gives our skin that glowing tan, but what many people don’t realize is that melanin production is actually our body’s defense mechanism—our skin’s way of protecting us from the sun. Some people’s skin naturally produces a lot of melanin, while others produce less.
Dermatologists diagnose sun damage spots as solar lentigos (sun spots), senile lentigos (age spots), or seborrheic keratoses (dark, wart-like growths).
I like to call them all wisdom spots! These dark patches can form after a long day in the sun or after years of cumulative sun damage (senile lentigos, for example occur in older people after decades of sun exposure)—which is why it’s so important to be wearing SPF all the time.
Most dark spots of this nature are typically harmless, but if you have any concerns about their shape or size, you should definitely consult with your dermatologist so that they can confirm their cause, whether or not they need to be biopsied, and to figure out the best treatment approach.
Dark spots cannot just simply be generalized or assumed to be one thing, so consulting with an expert is necessary for absolute confirmation.
(Gently cleanse your face every day with The Rain Facial Cleanser from the Women's Health Boutique.)
For patients that really want to lighten their sun-caused dark spots, they are in luck because there are lots and lots of skin-care products that are geared toward lightening and brightening. Salicylic acid is one of my favorite ingredients for treating a variety of skin ailments, including acne and dark spots.
It's so effective because in addition to being an anti-inflammatory and an antibacterial, it’s a keratolytic, which means it breaks down the keratin in our skin and thus helps to lighten dark spots.
If you have sensitive skin, salicylic acid can dry out the skin, so it’s best to use small amounts at first and then gradually increase the amount and frequency over time as your skin adjusts to it.
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I recommend incorporating a salicylic acid cleanser into your routine, such as the SLMD Acne Cleanser, or you can try a good spot treatment with salicylic acid, such as the Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment.
Thankfully, salicylic acid is way more legit than some of the old DIY treatments women used to use:
I also like retinol for treating dark spots. Retinol works by increasing cell turnover, which means your skin is being told to shed old cells and create new ones—helping to get rid of those older dark spots. You should only use retinol at night as it is deactivated by the sun and not effective if applied in the morning. An easy way to implement retinol into your skincare regimen is by choosing a night serum or treatment such as SkinBetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream FACE.
Another alternative: Kojic acid is actually derived from fungi, and it’s an ingredient that’s known to limit melanin production in our skin.
Since excess melanin is what creates those dark spots on your skin, kojic acid can be a great option—a lot of people consider it a more natural alternative to hydroquinone, which is a much stronger whitening agent.
It's often paired in products with azelaic acid, which similarly works to suppress melanin production. If you have sensitive skin, it’s best to use products with kojic acid in small amounts (likely at night) to make sure it’s not too strong for your skin.
Dr. Pimple Popper sets out to promote the practice of dermatology and to educate the public on proper skincare and dermatological procedures. She provides information and solutions to common (and uncommon!) skin concerns, such as acne, cysts, rosacea, and more. For more skin-care advice, visit Dr. Pimple Popper's The Pretty Pimple, Dr. Pimple Popper, or SLMD.