Your doctor or skin care professional can use a variety of procedures to get rid of sunspots on your skin. You will get the best results when you combine these procedures with a comprehensive skin care routine that also fights sunspots. Doing both can give you radiant, youthful skin again – a complexion with even color and that’s free of sunspots.
This is the fourth post in my dermatologist's blog series on sun spots. If you missed the other posts they are:
- What Causes Sun Spots?
- How Can You Get Rid of Skin Sun Spots?
- What's the Best Skin Care to Fade Sun Spots?
What procedures work best to lighten and treat sunspots on your skin?
I'm going to explain these procedures starting from the simplest and then moving to the more complex and technologically advanced.
Solitary sunspots on your skin can be treated with cryotherapy, also called liquid nitrogen therapy. This is what is done when your dermatologist “burns” or “freezes” specific sunspots. The freezing of the skin with the extra pigment results in a peeling off of the heavily pigmented layers. The pigment cells, called melanocytes, are very sensitive to cold treatment with liquid nitrogen and some of the focal overactive melanocytes can even be diminished when the treatment is done well.
There is always a risk that the treatment may not work or may result in a white or a brown/red mark that may be permanent. While usually inexpensive, simple and widely available, this type of treatment has its risks and is not good for every skin type. It's important to only have cosmetic cryotherapy treatments done by someone who does them often and on a range of skin types because there is quite a bit of 'art' in this simple and time-honored technique so experience counts.
“Thanks Dr. Bailey for taking a few years off my face.” Florence, 6/14
This treatment is typically performed by aestheticians. Like cryosurgery, microdermabrasion is widely available. It involves a controlled skin exfoliation with a suctioning off of the dead skin cells. Microdermabrasion is done using either salt crystals, aluminum sand, or a diamond surfaced wand. Our office uses the diamond surfaced wand.
During the treatment, dead cells with extra skin pigment are removed from the entire treatment surface. The best results are obtained with regular treatments ideally done at four to eight week intervals. The side benefit is an instant brightening and youthening of your complexion.
In our office, my aestheticians perform beautiful microdermabrasion treatments. I've worked with them to build highly effective treatments that are also pampering. Think of microdermabrasion treatments of your skin the same way you think of dusting your house; dead skin cells, like dust build up and don't look great. Removing them results in instant gratification! I personally love to combine my microderm treatment with a facial every 6 weeks. I love what it does for the appearance and the feel of my complexion and it's so pampering and relaxing. I highly recommend it!!
Chemical peel treatments vary widely so you need to understand just what you are signing up for when you consider having a chemical peel to control your sunspots or other complexion issues. Depending on the depth of the chemical peel and state licensing laws, you will find chemical peels performed by aestheticians, nurses, and/or physicians. In our dermatology office, chemical peels are done by our aestheticians, our nurse, and our doctors depending on the depth of the peel.
Chemical peel depth is determined by a combination of factors including:
- the acid used
- your skin's sensitivity to absorption of the acid
- how long the acid is left on your skin
- any skin preparation done before the acid is applied, such as
- removing skin oils with alcohol or acetone
- pre-treatment with microdermabrasion
- pre-treatment of the skin with the use of retinoids (such as tretinoin/RetinA) for a few weeks before
Different regions of your skin will respond differently to a chemical peel. The face is actually more forgiving and resilient than non-facial skin when it comes to chemical peels because skin heals from the pores after a peel and the face has more pores than other parts of your skin.
The acids typically used for chemical peels include salicylic acid, glycolic acid, a combined acid formula called Jessner's solution, trichloroacetic acid, and phenol. All but phenol can be used to create a range of peel depth. Superficial peels may leave the skin only mildly red for a day or two. Deeper peels can result in significant skin redness and peeling for several weeks and can be painful procedures. Like many cosmetic procedures aimed at evening out irregular skin pigment, darker skin types are much less forgiving to skin injury because they may heal with hyperpigmentation. Experience of the professional doing the peel is always important, and especially so if you have darker skin.
Laser and Light (Intense Pulsed Light, also called Broad Band Light) Treatments
Like chemical peels, these treatments vary widely in terms of both the results you can expect from, and your experience during the procedure. They are also done by a range of skin professionals depending on state licensing laws. In California, only a physician or registered nurse can perform laser and light treatments.
Both laser and light treatments use wavelengths of light to target something specific in the skin. Treatments can be ablative (meaning something is actually vaporized and thus removed to leave a controlled wound) or non-ablative (meaning there is no removal of skin).
In my office, we use either ablative erbium laser light to precisely treat the skin or we use IPL/BBL light to target pigment or red spider veins. The technology we use also allows us to combine these treatments in one visit to maximize results. My favorite approach for sunspots is to start with a series of IPL/BBL treatments to get rid of the sunspots and spider veins to give the skin an even color. Treatments also brighten the complexion and help retard the aging process. We then do one to two maintenance treatments a year to maximize the anti-aging benefits.
After the IPL/BBL series, we add ablative erbium laser peels to take the results even further by removing and treating wrinkles. In addition to actually peeling off layers of skin wrinkles, the erbium laser light creates a precise laser injury in the skin that stimulates skin healing to actually remove wrinkles even more.
"They all want to know my ‘secret."
“I get compliments about my skin from family, friends and strangers. They all want to know my ‘secret.’” Karlyn
What's the bottom line for fading sunspots on your skin?
The best results to control sunspots come from a combined approach that takes advantage of the best procedures and skin care routine customized for your skin type and budget. I usually combine a really powerful skin care routine to fade sunspots with office procedures. In my office, we use cryotherapy for spot treatment of occasional sunspots, IPL/BBL and laser for the 'heavy lifting' and anti-aging benefit. I recommend superficial chemical peels and/or microdermabrasion treatments in between the laser/light procedures and we always create a custom skin care routine based on your skin type.
To create your own skin care routine to fade your sunspots, I recommend reading my post titled What's The Best Skin Care to Fade Sun Spots?
It's wonderful because now we don't have to accept that our hands and cheeks are going to look like our grandparents over the years. Yes, our grandmothers did not like those age spots on the back of their hands and they would be so happy to know that we won't have to put up with them in this day and age. Now that's pretty cool progress!
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Don't miss the other 3 posts in this dermatology series on sun spots - cause and cure:
Post 1. What Causes Sun Spots on Skin?
Post 4. How to Get Rid of Those Pesky Sunspots (This post)
Photo attribution: Thanks and gratitude to © Laura Doss/Corbis