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NOW READING Got Sunspots and Freckles? A Top Dermatologist Explains the Differences and How to Treat Them
August 22, 2020

Got Sunspots and Freckles? A Top Dermatologist Explains the Differences and How to Treat Them

Summer is almost over and chances are this sun-drenched season has left you with a few “souvenirs” in the form of sunspots and freckles. Many people choose to embrace their freckles, but if you’d prefer to see them fade away into the sunset, there are plenty of options. 


sunspots and freckels


Sunspots and freckles – enemies or friends?  Depending on who you ask, the answer varies. Many people love and embrace their freckles, including Meghan Markle, who is admired around the world for them. The truth is, they take on similar characteristics.



Dr. Tess Mauricio
Dr. Tess Mauricio, MD, FAAD of M Beauty Clinic


We asked Stanford-educated dermatologist Dr. Tess Mauricio of M Beauty Clinics in San Diego and Beverly Hills how to tell sun spots and freckles apart and to share her advice on ways to treat them, should you want to. In a nutshell, “both are increased deposition of pigment under the skin due to sun exposure.” While it may seem that some who have lighter-toned skin are born with freckles, they can actually start appearing at a young age.


Freckles can also disappear or grow lighter depending on your level of sun protection over time. Dr. Tess also clarifies that “freckles and sunspots differ mainly by the size and distribution of the pigmented area, and if you have tiny spots which are flat and brown, chances are they are freckles.”  



Woman enjoying the summer holiday while applying suntan lotion.


Freckles are not usually dangerous to your health, unlike the potentially deadly melanoma skin cancer. Sunspots or “solar lentigos” occur later in life and can get larger in size. Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether a new pigmentation on your skin is a benign freckle or sunspot, or something more serious like skin cancer. In these cases, a skin biopsy may be needed to get a definitive diagnosis. “If there are signs of irregularity (uneven coloration, jagged border, and asymmetry) or if your spots are changing, they should be examined by a dermatologist right away,” says Dr. Tess.  



AZN Labs Hydrogel Eye Patches
AZN Labs Hydrogel Eye Patches


Although freckles and sunspots are not particularly harmful to your health, they can put a kink in what some people believe is their picture-perfect complexion, especially for those who choose not to welcome them. If you wish to have them lightened or removed, there are numerous remedies available. As far as topical treatments, there are several key ingredients in skincare products that are designed to help. “Retinols can decrease the appearance of pigmentation over time,” says Dr. Tess. You should also look for products with Vitamin C, Alpha Arbutin, Licorice Root Extract, Hexyl Resorcinol, Green Tea, and Glycolic Acid. Retinols and antioxidants work to protect the skin cells from UV damage and also help to stimulate repair along with providing a more even skin tone and youthful appearance.  



Haruharu Black Rice Hyaluronic Toner
Haruharu Black Rice Hyaluronic Toner


Although she’s not a big fan, Dr. Tess notes that the use of Hydroquinone, which can be found in both prescription and over the counter forms, is also a widely used compound in the fight against freckles and sunspots. But, she advises that it should only be used cautiously for a short period of time and is not meant to be used for long term maintenance therapy. 



Epicuren Discovery Zinc Oxide Perfecting Sunscreen SPF 27
Epicuren Discovery Zinc Oxide Perfecting Sunscreen SPF 27



The best way to prevent new freckles or sunspots to appear is to ensure your skin is protected from sun exposure. “Sun protection is key as this “hyperpigmentation” which increases the production of pigment is a response to UV exposure,” says Dr. Tess.  Daily, robust usage of a broad-spectrum sunscreen is recommended, along with ensuring that re-application happens regularly, meaning every 1.5 to 2 hours. Don’t forget to cover your hands, chest, tops of the feet if you’re wearing open-toe shoes, ears, and back of the neck. Wearing a protective, wide-brim hat, clothing with built-in sun protection and seeking shade whenever possible will help keep your skin protected from the damaging UV rays. Dr. Tess also recommends having a “daily intake of antioxidant nutritional supplements to protect skin from within.”


While topicals can work for some, in-office treatments are more effective techniques to combat freckles and sunspots according to Dr. Tess. “We use intense pulse light technology (IPL), lasers, chemical peels, and even growth factors from platelet-rich plasma.” She also recommends IV Glutathione and Vitamin C antioxidant treatments. 


Whether you choose to play them up or combat them, the options are abundant to help you achieve your skin-care goals. 


Thanks for the tips! I am most worried about sun spots on my hands because it will age them. I always apply sunscreen on exposed skin.


Really interesting and usefull tips thanks. |           

Now that summer is coming to an end, this is a perfect time to reassess our skins condition. I know I do! I have used sunscreen this summer, but I do work outside a few days a week, and I hate to admit, when I'm running late, I forget to put on my protection. (I LOVE the Epicuren zinc sunscreen!) So while still protecting my skin when I go outside this fall, I will also be finding some new treatments to help eliminate the spots I have accumulated this year. (Not a proud moment) Loved this article.

The Epicuren perfecting sunscreen is amazing! Great article👌

Again, sunscreen is SO important in our daily skin care routine. Love this article.

Thanks for the article! It was really helpful for this 50+ freckly person. SO important to wear sunscreen and have a yearly check up with your derm.

Thank you for the article, I loved learning the differences. :)

Love this article 😊! Freckles and sunspots can always be worked on to reduce the appearance of them. The Azn Eye patch is such a great product to protect the eye area from overexposure of the sun

Freckles are so cute and it's wonderful that people are embracing them so much! It's also important to know if they're freckles or sun spots to better care for your skin.

Thanks for the article, Christina! Many times I have found myself personally questioning the various new and old spots on my face and body, wondering the difference between them and when I should be concerned. In additional to self-checks, an annual dermatologist check always keeps things in perspective and recorded for any changes.