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How to Treat Sun Spots for Visible Clarity

We love beach days and laying out by the pool as much as the next person, but it isn’t all fun and games—you have sun damage to contend with, and that can go beyond getting a sunburn. Without the proper protection, skin dotted with small, flat dark spots known as sun spots can become your reality. Sun spots are a type of discoloration that can occur with repeated exposure to the sun’s rays. Unlike freckles, face sunspots don’t fade naturally—and while the spots themselves are harmless, they can be frustrating to deal with.I.

Thankfully, it is possible to reduce the appearance of dark spots and discolorations on the skin. Ahead, we’ll give you the 4-1-1 on what sun spots are, why they form, and how to fade them. Read on for our guide to sun spots and our routine for achieving glowing, radiant-looking skin.

What Are Sun Spots?

Sun spots are discolored areas of the skin that appear as flat brown, gray or black spots and could be a result from sun exposure or time spent in tanning beds. Discolorations typically fall into one of three categories: sun spots, hyperpigmentation or dark spots. Sun spots are a result of sun exposure, while hyperpigmentation and dark spots can be brought on post-acne or after trauma and inflammation in an hyper-concentrated area of the skin, age or something that triggers an increase of pigment production in a defined area.

What Causes Sun Spots On The Skin?

As with most skincare concerns, if you’d prefer to avoid sun spots, it’s a must to understand why they form in the first place. You can probably guess from the name and what we’ve told you far, but it all comes down to the sun. The sun emits powerful radiation known as ultraviolet radiation, more commonly referred to as "UV rays". Frequent exposure to UVA and UVB rays can lead to premature aging and cause fine lines, wrinkles, and a loss of elasticity. Studies show UV rays also cause hyperpigmentation. UV radiation impacts melanin synthesis, which can lead to both temporary pigmentation and permanent dark spots. Because this process occurs over time and with repeated sun exposure, sun spots are common among adults over 50, hence the nickname "age spots." Still, if your skin is frequently exposed to the sun without sun protection, don’t be surprised if sunspots make an appearance earlier.

Why do Sun Spots Look Like Dark Spots on the Skin?

Sun spots appear darker in color than the rest of your skin tone and look like dark spots on the skin due to the sun triggering the skin to produce more pigment in an attempt to protect the skin.I. This overproduction of pigment causes spots to show up on the skin in varying shades of brown or black.

What is the Difference Between Sun Spots and Freckles?

Freckles are also known as ephelides and are caused by an increased amount of dark pigments in the skin. Freckles often appear on the areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun, but they differ from sun spots in several ways including they are not caused by overexposure to the sun, but rather, are often genetic. Freckles also often fade during the winter months and they are often red to light brown in color. Sun spots, on the other hand, are caused by exposure to UV rays, usually do not fade due to season changes and are can be light yellow to dark brown or black in color.

Are Sun Spots Dangerous or harmful?

Though they may look concerning, true sun spots are benign and pose no risk to your health. 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, as this can be a sign of melanoma, a type of skin cancer).I. It’s also essential to remember that sun exposure, whether it results in sunspots 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.

Do Sun Spots Go Away?

It is possible for sun spots to fade, lessen or go away completely over time if you’re using powerful, efficacious ingredients and/or seeking treatment from a skincare professional. Products with ingredients such as Glycolic Acid, Aloe Vera, Activated C and Vitamin C could all help reduce the appearance of dark spots caused by the sun and other discolorations over time. Our dark spot corrector uses the power of Activated C, a potent form of Vitamin C, to help even skin tone and enhance overall skin clarity. If you’re looking for more intensive forms of treatment, you should consult a dermatologist.

How Can You Treat Sun Spots?

Adding products that help even skin tone and target dark spots to your skincare routine can help decrease signs of existing sun spots or discolorations, help minimize the triggers of hyperpigmentation and enhance overall skin clarity. For a brightening skincare routine, we recommend our Clearly Corrective collection as a gentle, yet efficacious way to increase brightness and enhance clarity for clear, healthy-looking skin. Exfoliating the skin is a great way to encourage cell turnover for renewed skin that’s visibly more healthy-looking. However, be careful not to over-exfoliate at the risk of possible irritation. Also, it’s important to use SPF protection daily to help protect skin and help prevent sun spots from forming.

How Can You Maintain an Even Skin Tone?

A brightening skincare routine to target areas of discoloration coupled with skin-soothing formulas including ingredients such as Calendula and Lavender Essential Oil can help maintain an even skin tone. Try our efficacious formulas such as our Calendula water cream and our nighttime facial oil to soothe skin and help maintain even, radiant skin. If you’re experiencing dark areas under the eyes due to digital fatigue or trauma from rubbing under the eyes, you can try our Avocado eye cream to help minimize the appearance of digital fatigue and even skin tone under they eye area. You can also add our anti-aging cream with 7-in-1 benefits as a moisturizer step in your routine to help even and refine skin. As always, we recommend completing your skincare routine with a sunscreen for daily defense against overexposure to the sun.

Can You Help Prevent Sun Spots?

Prevention starts with a sunscreen as a first step of defending against sun damage or damaging UV rays from tanning beds. Find the best sunscreen for your skin to help protect from potentially harmful sun damage that can lead to sun spots and other signs of skin-aging for a healthy-looking complexion.

How To Get Rid of Sunspots

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).I. There are, however, numerous over-the-counter skincare treatments that can fade and significantly reduce the appearance of dark marks. To lighten dark spots over time, we recommend reaching for a brightening serum, like Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution. It’s a daily treatment that helps even the skin tone and enhance clarity for a healthier-looking complexion. 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 hyperpigmentation 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 hyperpigmentation 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

1. Cleanse And Brighten At The Same Time

Every effective skincare routine begins with a clean face. We recommend washing your face daily with a gentle exfoliating cleanser, like Clearly Corrective Brightening & Exfoliating Daily Cleanser. This gentle face wash features pearlstone, a natural exfoliant derived from volcanic ash that helps remove dead skin cells, oil, and pollutants for a cleaner, clearer-looking complexion.


2. Don’t Skip Toner

After cleansing, prep your skin with a brightening toner, such as Clearly Corrective Brightening & Soothing Treatment Water. This hydrating formula features licorice root and vitamin C to refresh dull, tired-looking skin. It also contains illuminating minerals that reflect light to give the skin a dewy, healthy-looking glow. Simply pat onto clean, dry skin with your fingertips or a cotton pad, taking care to avoid the eye area.


3. Make a Serum For Dark Spots an Essential

Next, reach for a serum designed to target hyperpigmentation, such as Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution. This fast, exceptionally effective formulation was developed to promote youthful clarity while addressing the appearance of sun spots. It’s clinically proven to manage multiple clarity concerns such as dark spots and uneven skin tone.

KCR Tip: When looking for products to add to your brightening skincare routine, pay attention to the ingredients. We recommend reaching for formulas that feature potent antioxidants, like Activated C, peony extract, and white birch extract. You’ll find all three of these powerful ingredients in Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution.


4. Moisturize For Radiant Skin

No matter what skin type you have, using a daily moisturizer is essential for maintaining a healthy skin barrier. For dull or uneven skin, we recommend Clearly Corrective Brightening & Smoothing Moisture Treatment, a top-rated daily moisturizer starring vitamin C and clarifying glycolic acid. These powerful ingredients work together to visibly improve the skin’s tone and texture for a more uniform, radiant complexion.


5. Take Sun Protection Seriously

The only way to prevent new face sunspots from forming is to avoid sun damage. Experts recommend wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 every day, such as Super Fluid UV Defense SPF 50+ or Super Fluid Daily UV Mineral Defense. Apply your SPF as the final step in your daily skincare routine to keep your complexion protected from the sun’s harmful rays and follow all official sun-protection recommendations, which include minimizing time in the sun during peak hours (from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and wearing UV-blocking sunglasses.


Bonus Steps For Minimizing Face Sun Spots

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.

Use a Microdermabrasion Exfoliator

Professional microdermabrasion involves using a specialized abrasive tool to remove the skin’s outermost layer for a more refined, even complexion. Microdermabrasion is used to address age spots and dark spots left behind by acne, among other skin concerns. While the results of dermatologist-administered and at-home microdermabrasion will undoubtedly differ, both are valid options. At home, you can use an exfoliating treatment such as Epidermal Re-Texturizing Micro-Dermabrasion. This facial scrub stars ultra-fine powdered micronized shells to gently yet effectively buff away dead skin, pollutants, and surface buildup. We recommend using it three times per week after cleansing your face to help smooth the skin’s surface and reduce the appearance of sun spots and other visible signs of aging.


Use an At-Home Peel

A chemical peel is a professional treatment in which chemical exfoliants, such as acids, are applied to the skin to remove the top layers. The idea is that the skin that grows back will be smoother and not possess the concerns you received the peel for in the first place (like discolored skin). The gentlest version of this treatment is known as a light or superficial chemical peel, in which mild acids are used to exfoliate only the topmost layer of the skin. Superficial chemical peels can help improve the appearance of minor complexion concerns, such as mild discoloration or uneven skin texture. Medium and deep chemical peels penetrate further and provide more dramatic results, but they also tend to have more side effects.

For an at-home version of a professional peel, use a gentle resurfacing treatment such as Nightly Refining Micro-Peel Concentrate as part of your nightly skincare routine. This top-rated formula is safe for use on all skin types and works over time to exfoliate the skin for a brighter, more even complexion.


Now that you’ve learned how to treat and prevent sun spots, read our article Healthy Skin Habits to Start Now to learn how to keep your complexion nourished and healthy-looking.

I."The Protective Role of Melanin Against UV Damage in Human Skin." Photochem Photobiol, 2009.

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