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Sun Spots (Solar Lentigines)

A sun spot, or solar lentigo, is a common skin condition that is often seen in middle-aged to older



Causes of Sun Spots


As the name implies, sun spots are caused by long term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun and tanning beds.


The spots appear when melanin (the pigment in the skin) growth speeds up and clumps together, resulting in a “spot”.


Those with fair complexions are more prone to developing sun spots. Individuals who have experienced long-term, intense sun exposure or who have a history of sunburns are also at higher risk of developing solar lentigines.


Signs & Symptoms of Sun Spots


Sun spots are freckle-like in appearance and are often asymptomatic. They present as flat tan to brown spots on sun-exposed skin. Common areas for sun spots include:


  • Face

  • Neck

  • Chest

  • Shoulders and upper back

  • Back of the hands

  • Forearms

  • Top of feet


Diagnosis of Sun Spots


Your dermatologist can usually diagnose sun spots on visual examination. For suspicious lesions that require further evaluation, a skin biopsy may be performed to rule out a more serious diagnosis, such as a skin cancer.


Treatment of Sun Spots


Since sun spots are harmless, and treatment is typically cosmetic, aimed at reducing the appearance of these lesions. This is done through:


  • Medications: Bleaching creams which may be used in combination with steroids or retinoids. Bleaching creams help lighten the spot and retinoids (like tretinoin/Retin-A) help resurface the skin.

  • Cryotherapy: Liquid nitrogen can be applied to the sun spot to destroy the excess pigment. May result in pink discoloration of the skin.

  • Laser or IPL Light Therapy: Pigment cells in age spots are destroyed with light beams applied over the course of several treatment sessions.

  • Chemical Peel: Chemical skin peels applied in a series of treatments can lessen the appearance of sun spots.

  • Dermabrasion: An abrasive technique that removes the surface of the spot so that new skin can grow.


Because the sun plays a major role in the production of these lesions, sun protection is a key factor in treating and preventing the recurrence of sun spots/solar lentigines. Repeat sun exposure, can often cause recurrence of these lesions despite proper treatment.


Depending on your skin type and degree of sun damage, a dermatologist can help determine the right option for you.

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