Updated 6/12/20 A big concern for some people is how to prevent summer sun spots that appear during the hottest months of the year. While keeping the skin even-toned in summer can be a challenge (especially because of the heat, as you’ll soon learn), these skincare tips can make a world of difference.
Wear Sunscreen—Applied Generously and Often
I know this is stating the obvious, but exposing your skin to the sun (especially if you should get a tan or sunburn) will bring out sun spots. If you are serious in your quest to prevent summer sun spots, it’s important to know that you have to apply more than you think you need. Protecting your skin from the sun has much more to do with how much you apply than it does to the SPF number listed on the bottle, so you really must load it on.
As for reapplication, when out in the sun or even outdoors on a cloudy day, you should reapply another generous layer every ninety minutes. For quick reapplication during the day, I like to dust on a SPF-infused powder that contains titanium dioxide, one of the active ingredients used in mineral sunscreens.
Especially for oily/combination skin types prone to clogged pores (like skin types #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 and #6), it can be challenging to apply sunscreen generously if the formula feels greasy. I recommend (and personally use) Renée Rouleau Weightless Protection SPF 30 since it won’t clog the pores or feel greasy at all, unlike many sunscreens available.
Limit Exposure to Both Heat and Sun
For years, it was thought that sun spots were just like the name suggests—spots caused by the sun. We now know that the heat given off from the sun will stimulate melanin activity, resulting in discoloration on the skin. This means that no matter how diligent you are about re-applying sunscreen, wearing a hat and staying in the shade, you still may not be able to avoid pigment from forming. This is particularly true for those of us who live in the southern states where it gets very hot (I live in Austin, TX). Sometimes the heat is just unavoidable.
As much as possible, avoid being in direct sunlight from 10am -4pm, which are the hottest hours of the day, if you want to prevent summer sun spots.
Did you know melasma is also triggered by heat? Learn more about how to manage this tricky condition.
Keep Skin as Cool as Possible
Since overheated skin from time spent outdoors in the sun can increase melanin activity (as well as redness), it’s important to keep the temperature of the skin as low as possible.
How to Cool Down Overheated Skin to Prevent Sun Spots
- Splash skin with ice-cold water. Add ice cubes to the water to quickly lower the skin’s internal temperature.
- Apply a bag of frozen peas to all areas of the face.
- Keep your alcohol-free toner in the refrigerator. When applied to the skin after cleansing, it can provide a cooling effect.
- Perform a post-sun mask. Keep a gel-based mask in the refrigerator and apply it to clean skin for fifteen minutes. You’ll quickly cool it down in addition to providing hydration to thirsty skin cells.
- When in the sun, put an ice compress or cold washcloth on the back of the neck to keep cool.
- Stay in the shade to avoid getting overheated.
- Go for a dip in the pool, a lake, or the ocean. This quickly lowers the body’s temperature to reduce heat in the skin.
- Get creative with ways to keep your skin and body cool. Whatever it takes!
Sunscreen can prevent sunburn or tan but it can’t prevent the skin from getting overheated. Keep cool!
Don’t Lessen Your Acid Exfoliation in the Summer
One of the keys to managing skin discoloration that can easily appear during the hot summer months is to exfoliate regularly. This can be with acids, at-home peels, gentle facial scrubs, or dermaplaning.
However, people get worried about exfoliating when spending more time outdoors since some exfoliating acids (like AHA’s) can make the skin slightly more sensitive to the sun. I’m here to tell you that as long as you’re not seeking a tan and are diligent about your sun protection habits, it’s business as usual with your acids. I’m a skin type #6 and use Renée Rouleau Pore + Wrinkle Perfecting Serum all summer long. However, always use common sense. If you’re going to be at the beach for a few days, you might not want to exfoliate a night or two before.
Take this Skin Type Quiz to get the best products recommended exclusively for your skin’s unique needs.
Don’t Cut Back on Retinol During Summer
Sames goes for using your prescription retinoids or retinol. You’ll want to keep using it all summer long. If your goal is to prevent summer sun spots, vitamin A (the active ingredient in retinol and retinoids) is one of the most effective ingredients you can use. With continued use, retinol slowly delivers incredible smoothing and resurfacing results while keeping pigment cells under control. If you’re wanting to use a retinol product that doesn’t give the usual harsh side effects, start with an over-the-counter retinol product. Here are four things to look for when choosing a retinol product.
Regularly Use a Gentle Facial Scrub
Due to the popularity of acid exfoliators, many people no longer use a facial scrub thinking they are kind of “old school.” I’m here to tell you this is simply not the case. Acids such as lactic, malic, tartaric, glycolic, and salicylic do a great job at dissolving brown, pigmented cells, but it’s a facial scrub that actually lifts them off of the skin. Together, a skincare routine that includes chemical exfoliants (acids) and physical exfoliants (scrubs) will give the best results for keeping the skin even-toned and summer sun spots under control. In many instances, you can see an immediate fading in brown pigment immediately after using a scrub.
Use a Natural Skin Brightener Under Daily Sunscreen
In addition to exfoliants and retinol, applying a skin brightener to the skin daily will dramatically help suppress melanin cells to fade and prevent summer sun spots. Many skin-brightening products contain the ingredient hydroquinone, which is known to be a fairly controversial ingredient. If you want to use something more natural, I suggest using a serum with the ingredient tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. It’s a type of vitamin C that is very stable and non-irritating and can make a big difference in keeping the skin even-toned.
If your summer sun spots have already appeared, here are 7 ways to get rid of them.
Consider Wearing a Hat, But Be Careful
In theory, protecting your skin by wearing a hat when outdoors is always a smart idea—but maybe not in all cases. Hear me out. As I mentioned above, you want to limit your exposure to both sun and heat. A hat will provide shading for the face but there are times when it can make your face get hotter, so just be aware of that.
A Hat May Trigger More Sun Spots By:
- Retaining heat from the head and raising your internal temperature
- Trapping heat on the forehead if it has a tight band (I have seen many instances of forehead pigmentation due to wearing hats in the summer)
- Blocking your head from receiving a nice breeze on a windy day to keep you cooler
A good test is to take off your hat when outdoors. Does it make you feel cooler with or without it?
Bottom line, if a hat is going to make you get hotter, then don’t wear it. However, the best option might be to wear a hat to prevent direct sunlight but get one with a light, breathable fabric. The hats that runners wear will generally be the coolest on the head.
Eat a Diet Rich in Antioxidants
Did you know that certain fruits and vegetables can boost your skin’s defenses against sunburn and DNA damage? German researchers analyzed the results of seven large studies on beta-carotene—a vitamin found in carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, and spinach—and found that consuming 24 to 180 milligrams a day for at least 10 weeks can increase internal SPF significantly.
Additionally, a small study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology had ten subjects take 2,000 mg of vitamin C and 1,000 IU of vitamin E each day for eight days. They found they could tolerate 20 percent more UV exposure before getting sunburned. Bottom line: eat your fruits and veggies for good health and skin protection.
Something to Keep in Mind
Lastly, just because your sun spots or freckles come out easily in summer doesn’t mean you are getting more sun damage than anyone else. We all have our own issues that are genetically hard-coded into our skin, and pigmentation from heat and sun is simply one that some people have to deal with. I want to be clear that I am not saying there is anything wrong with having either sun spots or freckles. Everyone has different goals for their skin, and my hope is that this information gives you the tools you need to achieve those goals!
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”