he sun, the giver of life, provides us with warmth and keeps us healthy and happy. However, even too much of a good thing could be harmful to health, and enjoying the sunshine for too long could cause serious damage to the skin. This does not mean that the signs of skin damage due to sun exposure will be visible on the exposed areas of your body immediately after sun exposure. Studies have shown that sun damage is cumulative. Only 23% of lifetime exposure is observed by the age of 18. About 47% of lifetime exposure is visible by the age of 40 and after the age of 60, almost 100% effect of sun damage is noticed on the skin. [1] The cumulative effect of sun exposure causes the appearance of dark spots on the skin. As the dark or brown spots are more visible on the face of middle-aged and older adults, they are frequently referred to as age spots. [2]

Fortunately, sun damage could be inhibited by protecting the skin from solar radiation. In some cases, the damaged skin can be repaired and the normal texture and tone of the skin can be restored with appropriate remedies.

The solar radiation comprising of the visible light, the ultraviolet A (UVA) and the highly energetic ultraviolet B (UVB) radiations exerts considerable stress on the human skin. Depending upon the level of exposure, the UVA radiation and particularly UVB could be mutagenic and cytotoxic. Excess exposure to the solar radiation damages the skin at the subcellular, cellular and tissue levels that not only increases the risk of skin cancer but is also associated with local and systemic immunosuppression. However, the human skin is equipped with a natural shield in the form of melanin pigment that defends it from the damaging effects of the UV radiation. While melanin plays a crucial role in maintaining the homeostasis of the epidermis and the skin cells, the intermediates of melanogenesis are known to modulate the local metabolic and immune activities. [3]

Nevertheless, all types of melanin are not equally effective in protecting the skin from sun damage. The beneficial effect of melanin is primarily attributed to eumelanin, the black pigment, which is predominant in dark-skinned individuals. Pheomelanin, the yellow-red melanin produced in the skin of fair-skinned individuals of Caucasian of Northern or Central European origin, is vulnerable to mutagenic and carcinogenic activities.[3]

What Are Sun Spots

Sunspots, also known as age spots, liver spots, and solar lentigines, develop when the melanin-producing cells become overactive and produce excess melanin. The UV radiation activates these cells. The cumulative effect of sun exposure leads to clumping of the melanin and the brown spots appear on the skin. Apart from sun exposure, indoor tanning beds and tanning lamps are known to accelerate the development of dark spots. Though the sunspots are common after the age of 50, they may appear on the skin of younger adults due to excess sun exposure. [4]

Types and Symptoms of Sun Spots

Sunspots are usually multiple small, brown or dark-colored spots on the skin. The exact type depends upon age, genetics, lifestyle, and gender.

1. Freckles

The small brown spots that appear on the areas of the skin that are frequently exposed to the sun in children and young adults are known as freckles. The cumulative effect of repeated sunburn or chronic sun exposure may cause freckles in adults and elderly. In middle-aged and older adults, the tanned area or brown patches on the exposed areas of the skin are larger in size. Fair-skinned people with red hair are susceptible to freckles. It is usually inherited. They are more prominent during the summer months and fade during the winter. The appearance of freckles indicates higher sensitivity of the skin to sunlight that entails a higher risk of skin cancer. Nevertheless, freckles are harmless skin condition. [5]

2. Solar Lentigo

Though solar lentigines and freckles are similar in appearance, unlike freckles that fade during winter, solar lentigines persist in all seasons. After the age of 60, almost 90% of the Caucasians have solar lentigines. These sharply circumscribed, uniformly pigmented spots develop on the sun exposed areas of the skin, especially on the back of the hands, on the shoulders and scalp. Solar lentigo occurs because of enlargement of keratinocytes and melanocytes due to excess melanin build up in the keratinocytes. As solar lentigines are more common in the elderly, they are also known as lentigo senilis. Sunburn due to acute or prolonged sun exposure could cause solar lentigines in young adults. Solar lentigines usually are light brown in color. In some cases, their color could be from dark brown to black. [6]

3. Melanoma

Though lentigo is usually known to be harmless, sometimes it may lead to malignant melanoma, especially if it is present on the face. Change in the color of lentigo could indicate melanoma. When a lentigo is raised or brown lumps develop on the lentigo, it may indicate cancerous changes in the skin cell. [5]

How to Get Rid of Sun Spots and Repair Sun Damaged Skin Naturally

By taking proper care of your skin, you can get rid of the sun spots naturally.

1. Exfoliation

Exfoliating the old skin helps in fading dark spots and reduces their appearance. Exfoliation at least thrice a week can give the desired result. Apart from lightening the pigmentation spots, frequent exfoliation stimulates collagen and elastin syntheses that help in tightening the skin that reduces appearance of fine lines. To exfoliate your skin use a homemade almond scrub. Apart from sloughing off the dead skin, the bleaching property of almond helps in lightening the pigmented areas. Mix ground almond with honey and gently massage the mixture on damp skin. Baking soda is another effective mechanical exfoliant or scrub. After cleansing, rub a handful of baking soda in circular motion on wet face and body. [7][8]

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are natural exfoliating agents that are found in most chemical peels that help in lightening the pigmented areas. They work by shedding the surface skin. They are usually sourced from fruits such as grapes, citrus fruits and apples, and sugar cane. However, AHAs used in chemical peels are known to cause skin irritation and increase the sensitivity of the skin to sunlight. [9] The side effects of chemical peels can be avoided by exfoliating the skin with natural AHAs. Lemon, peach, yogurt, and buttermilk are some of the natural sources of AHAs that could be used topically to fade the dark spots. You can prepare a face mask by combining 5 ounces of peach and one tablespoon of honey with enough oats to make a smooth paste. Apply to the affected areas and rinse off after 10 minutes. [10]

2. Moisturize

Regular application of good quality moisturizer, preferably one with anti-aging ingredients, helps in reducing the appearance of dark spots associated with skin aging. Increasing the skin’s moisture content is known to slow down natural skin aging. [11] Natural moisturizing agents such as coconut oil, in addition to increasing the skin’s moisture level, provides nourishment that helps in reducing skin pigmentation. Apart from applying coconut oil to the affected area, ingesting one to three tablespoons of coconut oil daily could help. [12] Castor oil is also believed to lighten the brown spots on the skin. You can apply castor oil directly to the age spots or combine it with baking soda and rub the mixture on the affected areas. [13]

3. Essential Oils

The regenerative properties of essential oils help in improving the appearance of the skin and could help in reducing appearance of the pigmented age spots. The essential oils of sandalwood, rose, frankincense, geranium, carrot seed, patchouli, myrrh, cypress and pomegranate could help in diminishing age spots. Regeneration and growth of new skin cells help restore the healthy complexion. In addition, certain essential oils such as sandalwood essential oil work as astringent and geranium essential oil help in restoring normal sebum secretion. Essential oils are also known for their anti-inflammatory effect on the skin. [14]

In addition to using single essential oil, essential oil blends are also used for fading sun spots. To 10 ml extra virgin coconut oil, add two drops each of lavender, frankincense and myrrh essential oil. Mix the oils well and apply to the affected area at least once a day. [15]

You can also apply a mixture of lemon oil, helichrysum oil and oregano essential oil to the affected area. To ½-teaspoon carrier oil add one drop each of lemon oil, helichrysum oil and oregano essential oil and rub few drops of the oil blend on the pigmented area. If one or two sun spots are present on the skin, after applying the oil blend, cover the area with a bandage. Allow the oil mixture to sit on the affected area for several hours or leave it overnight for better result. [16]

However, essential oils should be chosen carefully for lightening the sunspots as some of these oils are known to increase the sensitivity of the skin to sunlight that can further damage the skin when exposed to the sun. For example, the essential oils extracted from citrus fruits, owing to the high concentration of a photosensitizing compound called bergapten increase risk of sunburn. However, the concentration of bergapeten is lower in steam-distilled citrus oils, which can be used for lightening sun spots. Avoiding the sun after using these oils or using them in the night could help avert the adverse side effects. Among citrus oils, bergaptenless bergamot oil, distilled lemon oil, distilled lime oil, sweet or wild orange oil, mandarin oil and tangerine oil are considered non-phototoxic. [17] To lighten the age spots, dilute three drops of lemon essential oil in almond oil and apply to the affected areas twice a day for a couple of months. [18]

4. Vitamins

Topical application of the antioxidant vitamins C and E could help in protecting the exposed areas of the skin from sunburn damage and enhance the health and appearance of the skin. Studies suggest that applying vitamin C to the skin 30 to 60 minutes after sun exposure could diminish the number of sunburned skin cells and stimulate repair of the damaged skin. In addition to topical vitamin C, oral supplementation with vitamin C is also believed to reduce the risk of tumor formation after exposure to UV light.

Topical vitamin E is also known to help in diminishing sunburn induced skin damage. By neutralizing free radicals, it helps in reducing oxidative stress on the skin. Furthermore, topical vitamin E helps in retaining moisture in the skin, thereby reducing skin dryness. Supplementation with vitamin E is known to improve the skin texture and reduce sun damage. [19]

Studies have also demonstrated the potential roles of vitamins A and B3 in mitigating sun damage and photoaging. Carotenoids, the precursors for vitamin A, found in a number of fruits and vegetables, are believed to play an important role in inhibiting collagen breakdown in the skin due to UV light exposure. In anti-aging skin care formulations usually vitamin A is found in the form of retinoids. Topical retinoids are known to help in combating photoaging.

Studies suggest that topical vitamin B3 or niacinamide is capable of stimulating collagen production in the skin and reducing dark spots. It can decrease risk of UV-induced skin damage and photoaging. [20]

5. Herbs

Antioxidants found in certain plants are known to protect the skin from the harmful effect of UV radiation. The plant-based antioxidants can be used topically as well as orally to improve the skin health and appearance. The flavonoid-rich cocoa and pomegranate extracts are found to be effective in protecting the skin from the UV light. Rosehip is another excellent source of flavonoids. Green tea is an excellent source of antioxidants that minimize erythema or redness of the skin induced by UV light exposure. Green tea is usually used as a toner or combined with a moisturizer.

To provide your skin additional sun protection, dab green tea on the skin and allow it to dry before applying sun cream. Aloe vera, due to its anti-inflammatory effect, is used topically to soothe and heal the sun damaged skin. Milk thistle contains an antioxidant compound called silymarin that helps in neutralizing the free radicals generated from sun exposure. Burdock root and yarrow work as topical anti-inflammatory and vulnerary agents. Topical sage extract helps in fighting inflammation. Calendula is used topically for improving the skin condition. [21][23]

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