During winter months, Chicagoans dream of extended summer days and sunshine. However, enjoying hours of fun in the sun and not applying sunscreen can have a lasting impact, especially when the effects of the sun’s damaging UV rays begin to cause darkened spots on your skin.
We are talking about sun damage, also known as Melasma, Hyperpigmentation or more commonly known as sun spots.
Ultra violet rays from the sun stimulate the production of melanin, which is responsible for our skin tanning and serves the purpose of protecting our skin from the radiation. Melanin is produced by cells in our body called melanocytes that create the pigment. It is also responsible for our skin, hair and eye color. Having an increase in melanin can eventually cause darkened, irregular coloring to the skin.These sun spots are often seen on the most exposed areas of the body including the face, chest and hands. Although sun damage is most common in older individuals, and takes on average 30 years to appear, the more exposure you have without sunscreen the more likely you are to develop it at a younger age.
What Can Be Done?
The mission to conquer your sunspots can be very overwhelming due to the vast number of products and treatments on the market today. Listed below are some pharmaceutical/in-office, over the counter, and non-invasive skin lightening treatments including how they work on improving your skin. Although a one-time use of any of these treatments could show improvement to your sun spots, sometimes multiple treatments or more than one type may be needed.
Pharmaceutical or In-Office Treatments:
- The most common prescription strength treatment for sun spots is known as Hydroquinone. You can sometimes get this treatment over the counter, depending on the strength of the product. Hydroquinone works to fade your sun spots by reducing or inhibiting melanin production. Although it is sometimes referred to as a bleaching cream it does not actually bleach your skin. Talk to you physician about this treatment to determine the dosage and application that is right for you.
- Chemical peels are generally in-office treatments that require an application of an acid solution, which exfoliates your skin and renews cell turnover to reduce sun spots. There are different types of peels, which vary in strength from superficial, moderate, or deep. Depending on the overall sun damage you have and the color of your skin, your physician will recommend the correct strength. The superficial to moderate peels work to reduce sun spots at the outer layer of your skin. The deep treatments penetrate the lower layers of your skin where there may be more sun damage.
Over the Counter Treatments:
- Non-Hydroquinone over the counter treatments can include kojic acid, azelaic acid, Vitamin C, and niacin (Vitamin B3). These products are commonly thought to be gentler than Hydroquinone, which is why you can buy them over the counter. They work to fade sun spots in a similar way as Hydroquinone, but since they are not as strong it may take longer or require you to use more than one type of treatment. Over the counter products can be a good choice for many due to cost savings and a physician visit not being required.
- Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) is a photo facial treatment that is non-invasive. IPL uses light based technology to absorb and destroy the melanin in your skin to reduce sun spots. IPL targets the exact areas of sun damage and penetrates deep into your skin without impacting the outer layers of your skin. Depending on the overall damage and color of your skin your physician will recommend the overall treatment of IPL including the number of treatments you may need.
After using non-invasive treatments it is important to continue using lightening skin care products to suppress hyperpigmentation, as well as wearing sunscreen daily, since sun spots can return. Sunscreen is the number one way to prevent sun damage so use 30 SPF or higher daily. You should wait 30 minutes after you apply to go into the sun and make sure to re-apply when you are out for long periods of time. Using a sunscreen with zinc and wearing sun protective clothing will help reduce overall sun exposure as well.
We all want a healthy, even-toned complexion. Our skin is the largest organ, protects our body, and is usually the first thing others notice about us. Sun spots can be very difficult to treat, especially when it is in the deeper layers of our skin. We all know a little Vitamin D from the sun can be helpful, but too much sun can be damaging. While some of these pharmaceutical, over the counter, and non-invasive treatments can be helpful for treating sun spots, it is most important to use daily sunscreen to prevent further damage.