We love beach days and laying out by the pool as much as the next person, but fun in the sun has its limits. Without proper protection, basking in the sun’s warm rays can leave you with sun damage—and we don’t just mean sunburns. Sun spots are one of the most common signs of sun damage, and unlike freckles, these dark spots don’t typically fade on their own. While they’re not generally dangerous, sun spots can accumulate over time, leaving your skin looking uneven, blotchy, or just plain aged.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that sun spots can often be addressed with the right skincare routine. Here, we’ll give you all the details on what sun spots are, why they occur, and what makes them different from other types of skin discolorations. We’ll also introduce you to our best skincare for sun spots. Read on for the Kiehl’s guide to skin sun spots.
What Are Sun Spots?
First, let’s review what sun spots are (and what they aren’t). Sun spots are a type of skin discoloration brought on by excessive or repeated exposure to ultraviolet light, like that from the sun or tanning beds. They’re flat and can range in color from light brown to black or even grey, depending on your skin tone. They can occur anywhere that gets a lot of sun exposure, like your face, chest, or hands, and tend to develop later in life. Sun spots are a type of dark spot, but unlike post-blemish marks or other discolorations that result from trauma to the skin, they don’t usually lighten over time. For that reason, prevention (in the form of daily sun protection) is the best way to protect yourself against developing sun spots.
What Causes Sun Spots On The Skin?
It’s no surprise that sun exposure can visibly change your skin’s color—that’s what a tan is, after all. But while tans tend to fade once you’re out of the sun for a few days, sun spots don’t. As we mentioned above, sun spots are caused by prolonged, repeated exposure to ultraviolet light, specifically UVA and UVB rays. Repeated exposure is the key: Sun spots rarely develop after one day in the sun. Over time, UVA and UVB rays can alter how your body produces and stores melanin, your skin’s natural pigment. As you age, this can cause your body to deposit melanin abnormally, leading to dark discolorations that appear on areas frequently exposed to the sun. Since this is a process that takes time to occur, sun spots tend to appear in mid-life, which is why they’re sometimes called “age spots.” However, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule: If you spend a lot of time in the sun without protection, you can develop sun spots earlier.
What’s The Difference Between Sun Spots and Freckles?
Sun spots and freckles both tend to appear on skin frequently exposed to sunlight, so it’s no surprise that the two are often mistaken for one another. In reality, though, they’re very different. Freckles are small, brownish or reddish, and often appear in clusters. More importantly, they’re typically determined by genetics and tend to be most apparent on those with fairer skin. Sun spots aren’t inherited, and they can develop on anyone. Additionally, freckles often fade during the winter, while sun spots stay put once they show up.
Are Sun Spots Dangerous or Harmful?
Though they may look concerning, true sun spots are benign—in other words, they’re not something to worry about. However, because they can appear similar to cancerous growths, it’s best to have any new sun spots examined by a dermatologist (particularly if they change in appearance). It’s also essential to remember that sun exposure, whether it results in sun spots or not, can cause damage and be linked to skin cancer.
Experts recommend seeing a dermatologist once a year for a full-body skin exam. The dermatologist will inspect your skin, looking at any moles or spots to assess their size, color, shape, and whether they’ve changed since your last exam. Those who are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer may benefit from more frequent exams—talk to your doctor to determine what screening frequency is right for you.
How To Help Prevent Sun Spots
Proper sun protection can drastically reduce the risk of developing sun spots later in life. Sun protection includes the obvious—wearing sunscreen every day, no matter the weather—but also means adopting other habits, like avoiding sun exposure during midday, sticking to the shade whenever possible, and wearing protective clothing and hats to help shield yourself from the sun’s rays. While these practices aren’t guaranteed to prevent sun spots, they are the best way to help protect your skin against photodamage.
Do Sun Spots Go Away On Their Own?
Sadly, no—as we mentioned earlier, sun spots don’t fade or disappear on their own. That doesn’t mean they’re always permanent, though. There are sun spot treatments that you can get at a dermatologist’s office to help visibly lighten discolorations and improve your skin tone. If you have sun spots that you’re concerned about, we recommend visiting your dermatologist to determine what sort of treatment best suits your skin’s needs.
How To Get Rid Of Sun Spots On The Face
No matter how many times you search "how to get rid of sunspots," you won’t find an instant DIY solution. The only surefire way to get rid of sun spots is to get them removed by a dermatologist (and because it’s considered a cosmetic procedure, professional treatments to remove sun spots are rarely covered by insurance). There are, however, numerous over-the-counter skincare treatments that can fade and significantly reduce the appearance of dark marks.
Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Corrector
To lighten dark spots over time, we recommend reaching for a brightening serum, like Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Corrector. It’s a daily treatment that helps even the skin tone and enhance clarity for healthier-looking skin. Another option is to use a targeted treatment like Clearly Corrective Accelerated Clarity Renewing Ampoules. These brightening ampoules may be small, but they pack a punch. The 14-day treatment helps to visibly improve skin texture and fade dark spots thanks to a powerful formula that features vitamin C and a blend of lactic, glycolic, and phytic acids.
Of course, a temporary treatment won’t be all you need. For sun spots on the face, we recommend following a daily brightening skincare routine to lighten them gradually. Below, we’ve put together a routine designed to fade, smooth, and prevent dark spots and other visible signs of sun damage for a brighter, more even-toned complexion.
Kiehl’s Daily Routine For Skin With Sun Spots
Cleanse and Brighten At The Same Time
Every effective skincare routine begins with a clean face. To help remove dirt and debris while promoting brighter-looking skin, we suggest reaching for Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser. The mild, creamy formula with peony extract and pearlstone helps purify and gently exfoliate the skin without disrupting the skin’s natural moisture barrier. It’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin, and helps reveal smoother, visibly clearer skin when used regularly. We recommend using it morning and night to kick off your skincare routine—just apply a pea-sized amount to your damp face and massage it over your skin before rinsing with lukewarm water.
Don’t Skip a Brightening Kiehl’s Toner
After cleansing, prep your skin for the rest of your routine with Clearly Corrective Brightening & Smoothing Treatment Water. Made with licorice root and activated vitamin C, this gentle toning liquid helps refresh and hydrate the skin while diminishing dullness. It also helps strengthen the skin’s natural moisture barrier and encourages a brighter, more even appearance with consistent use. You can splash it directly onto your skin with your hands, or use a cotton pad to sweep it over your face (just take care to avoid your immediate eye area).
Make a Serum For Dark Spots an Essential
While sun spots are unique from other forms of dark spots in many ways, how to treat dark spots is pretty much the same across the board, regardless of their cause. You’ll want to look for skin-brightening ingredients, such as vitamin C, which you’ll find in our best dark spot serum, the aforementioned Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Corrector. The powerful yet gentle formula is clinically-demonstrated to visibly improve a wide array of skin discolorations, including sun spots, with consistent use.* It’s dermatologist-tested and suitable for all skin types. Use it on not just your face but your chest, neck, and hands to visibly reduce sun spots on your body as well.
*This product was tested on a multi-ethnic panel equally distributed: 25% African American, 25% Asian, 25% Caucasian, 25% Hispanic. Results based on expert grading in a 12-week clinical test on 104 subjects.
Use an Anti-Aging Kiehl’s Eye Cream
The skin around your eyes is thinner than most other areas on your body, and as such, is uniquely vulnerable to photodamage. To help keep your eye area looking its best, we recommend incorporating a multi-purpose eye cream, like Super Multi-Corrective Anti-Aging Eye Cream, into your daily routine. The hydrating formula helps address the visible signs of aging on the eyelids, brow bones, under-eye, and inner corners, leaving the eye area looking smoother, firmer, and more youthful. It also helps brighten dark under-eye circles and minimizes puffiness for brighter-looking eyes.
Moisturize For Radiant-Looking Skin
No matter what skin type you have, moisturizing daily is critical for keeping your skin hydrated and healthy-looking. If you’re struggling with sun spots, use a brightening moisturizer like Clearly Corrective Brightening & Soothing Moisture Treatment to hydrate and help even your skin tone simultaneously. The creamy moisturizer with glycolic acid provides continuous hydration for up to 24 hours and helps brighten dull skin. When used regularly, it’s clinically-demonstrated to help improve the appearance of dark spots and even skin texture for improved clarity.*
*Results based on a clinical study of the upper layers of the skin.
Ultra Facial Cream SPF 30
As an alternative—especially during the daytime—try a moisturizer that contains sunscreen, like Ultra Facial Cream SPF 30. The non-greasy formula absorbs quickly and provides broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays to help protect the skin from sun damage. It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used daily for smooth, healthy-looking skin.
Take Sun Protection Seriously
Arguably the most important step in your sun spot skin routine is sunscreen—after all, sun exposure is what causes sun spots to develop. Every day, regardless of the season or the weather, complete your skincare routine by applying a healthy layer of sunscreen to all exposed skin.
We recommend reaching for a lightweight, broad-spectrum formula with an SPF of at least 30, such as Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+. The non-comedogenic formula absorbs quickly and helps protect against damaging UV rays as well as skin-aging free radicals. It’s non-greasy and suitable for all skin types and can be used daily to help keep your skin protected. Remember to reapply your sunscreen frequently and follow other sun-safety measures, like avoiding direct sunlight at midday and wearing protective clothing, for lasting sun protection.
A straightforward daily routine can help prevent sun spots and reduce their appearance over time, but there’s more you can do. Some people opt for professional treatments for fading sun spots, which typically involve intentionally damaging the skin’s surface with chemicals or harsh abrasives to promote the production of collagen and new skin cells. Fortunately, if you don’t want to shell out the cash for an expensive cosmetic treatment, Kiehl’s has at-home options to take your routine to the next level.
Nightly Refining Micro-Peel Concentrate
Professional chemical peels are often used to help improve the appearance of skin discolorations. They can be effective, to be sure, but if you’d rather stick to at-home treatments, try a mini-peel, such as Nightly Refining Micro-Peel Concentrate. This gentle yet effective exfoliating serum with phytic acid and quinoa husk extract helps refine the skin while you sleep. It’s clinically-demonstrated to help accelerate skin surface turnover, leaving the skin visibly more even and smoother with consistent use.* And, unlike chemical peels, you can use it every night—it’s super-gentle and suitable for all skin types.
*Results based on instrumental test within skin surface layers.
Epidermal Re-Texturizing Micro-Dermabrasion
With photodamage often comes changes in skin texture—specifically, excessive sun exposure can make the skin feel rough and uneven. To help smooth your skin, we recommend reaching for Epidermal Re-Texturizing Micro-Dermabrasion once or twice a week. This powerful exfoliating treatment with shea butter and diatomaceous earth effectively exfoliates for instantly smoother skin and helps reduce the appearance of discolorations over time. It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used on the face, hands, and decolletage as needed for smoother, more refined-looking skin.