Dark spots, freckles, and sun spots—they aren’t inevitable symptoms of age—but rather signs of sun damage and past sunburns. Along with lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone and discoloration can add years to your appearance. In fact, studies have shown that hyperpigmentation can increase your perceived age by as much as 10 years. That’s a whole lot of extra years, but it doesn’t have to be a fact of life.

The first step in preventing dark spots is sun protection. The truth is, if you want clear, even toned skin, stay out of the sun. The color of your skin is determined by the amount of melanin you have in the epidermis, and the amount of melanin is influenced by sun exposure. When certain cells called melanocytes are exposed to UV rays, they create additional melanin, which are the basics of tan formation. Tans fade, but with repeated UV exposure the melanocytes remain in a stimulated state; in other words they are permanently switched on and constantly stimulated to over product melanin. This results in discolorations called solar lentigines, benign flat brown spots that most commonly appear on the face, chest, and the back of the hands.

Chevy Chase Board Certified Dermatologist Rebecca Kazin advises that the first step in avoiding discoloration is sun protection. Wear protective clothing, seek the shade during peak hours, and always wear broad-spectrum sunscreen when you are outdoors, and remember to reapply every two hours.

But unfortunately, sun exposure is cumulative, and if you haven’t been protected since birth you may be showing signs of discoloration. By the time we reach our 60s, 90% of fair skinned people will have dark spots from the sun.

If sunspots bother you, first make sure that they are non-cancerous by speaking to a dermatologist about treatment options. Hydroquinone has been the gold-standard ingredient for diminishing hyperpigmentation for more than 50 years. It works to prevent the production of melanin by disrupting the normal functioning of melanocytes. Dermatologists can dispense 4% concentration, which will work faster and more effectively, and must only be used under medical supervision to avoid side effects.

Dr. Kazin also offers laser resurfacing, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels to treat discoloration and melasma. In many cases, topical treatment will be sufficient to reverse the problem, and more aggressive procedures may not be needed.

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Rebecca Kazin today to find out more.