Sun Damage to the Skin

Skin sunspots are flat, brown or black spots that come in all different sizes. They usually appear on areas that are regularly exposed to sunlight such as the face, back of the hands, shoulders, and arms. Sunspots are common in people over 50 years of age and people who are regularly exposed to the sun. Sunspots are normally harmless and do not require treatment. However, they can be removed or lightened for cosmetic reasons.


Sunspots on the shoulders, back, and back of the hands are more common in light-skinned people. Skin sunspots have the following characteristics:
  • Flat and oval
  • Brown or black
  • Occur on areas of the skin that are regularly exposed to the sun, such as the back of the hands, top of the feet, face, shoulders, and upper back
  • Range in size from a few millimeters to half an inch, often occurring in groups that are easily visible

When to seek medical attention

Many patients aren’t fond of sun spots even though they are harmless and do not require treatment. Therefore treatment is often for cosmetic reasons. However, if the sunspots become darker and change in appearance and size, they may become cancerous so you should have a doctor diagnose them.


Sunspots are caused by prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays or from a tanning lamp or bed. UV stimulates the body to produce an increased amount of melanin to protect the deep layers of the skin. The areas of the skin that are regularly exposed to the sun for long periods of time will develop sun spots due to the production and accumulation of melanin.

Risk Factors

Sunspots can appear on anyone, but they are more common in fair-skinned people who are regularly exposed to the sun or have a history of sunburns.


  • Physical Exam of the Skin: The doctor will examine the spots on the skin, and may use a magnifying lens to view the skin more clearly.
  • Skin biopsy: If there is any doubt about the possibility of a malignant melanoma, the doctor may perform other tests, such as a skin biopsy for laboratory analysis.

Treatment Options

  • Medications: The doctor may recommend hydroquinone, which helps remove the top layer of skin, or retinoid and steroids, which lightens the sunspots within 2-3 months. During the treatment, sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher should be applied on the affected areas.
  • Laser Therapy: Several sessions of laser therapy may be required. After treatment, the sunspots will slowly fade away within 2-3 months. As the laser therapy may cause uneven skin color, sunscreen is highly recommended after treatment.
  • Chemical Peel: Another option is the application of acids on the sunspots to eliminate the top layer of sun damaged skin, enabling a fresh new layer to regenerate. Provided that sunscreen has also been regularly applied on the treated areas, patients will see the difference after 2-3 sessions.


  • Avoid sun exposure between 10.00 a.m. - 3.00 p.m., as the sun’s UV radiation is most intense during this period. Try to limit outdoor activities during these hours.
  • Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher for both UVA and UVB broad spectrum protection at least 15-30 minutes before going outside. Re-apply every 2 hours or more frequently if swimming or sweating too much.
  • Protect yourself from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Wear a broad-brimmed hat for sun protection. Wear clothes that cover the arms and legs or clothes with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF).

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