A big concern for some people (not everyone though!) is how to prevent summer sun spots and freckles that appear during the hottest months of the year. While keeping the skin even-toned can be a challenge, especially from the heat as you’ll soon learn about, these skin care 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 will bring out sun spots. If you are serious in your quest to prevent summer sun spots, 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 90 minutes.
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 a sunscreen generously if the formula feels greasy. I recommend Daily 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. Particularly for those of us who live in the southern states where it gets very hot (I reside in Austin, TX), it makes it very frustrating to deal with. 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.
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 low.
How to prevent summer sun spots when the skin is overheated.
- 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 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 like Bio Calm Repair Masque in the refrigerator and apply to clean skin for 15 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.
- Go for a dip in the pool, lake or ocean. This quickly lowers the bodies temperature to reduce heat in the skin.
- Get creative with ways to keep your skin and body cool. Whatever it takes!
Sunscreen can prevent a 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 use be exfoliating regularly. This can be with acids, at-home peels, gentle facial scrubs, dermaplaning and sonic cleansing brushes. However, people get worried about doing so when spending more time outdoors since some exfoliating acids (like AHA’s) and retinol can make the skin slightly more sensitive. 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 #2 and use 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 needs.
Don’t cut back on using retinol in the 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, this will be very effective for doing so. 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, Advanced Resurfacing Serum is incredible for giving results for sensitive skin types.
Do make sure you’re using a gentle facial scrub regularly.
Due to the popularity of acid exfoliants, 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 from 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. Mint Buffing Beads is a gentle scrub using round, non-plastic beads that can work miracles to fade discoloration.
Use a natural skin brightener daily under sunscreen.
In addition to exfoliants and retinol, applying a skin brightener daily to the skin 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 a proven skin lightener and can make a big difference in keeping the skin even-toned. I recommend Vitamin C & E Treatment as it contains this ingredient along with others that give tremendous benefit for fading and suppressing stubborn pigmentation. This is definitely a must for daily use all year round but especially in summer.
Bonus: A Durham, N.C.-based Duke University Medical Center researchers determined that using a lotion or serum with both vitamins C and E under sunscreen actually provides four times the protection of sunscreen alone. To bump up your SPF, use a vitamin C and E serum under sunscreen.
Consider wearing a hat—or not.
In theory, protecting your skin by wearing a hat when outdoors is always a smart idea—but maybe not in all cases. Here me out. As I mentioned above, you want to limit your exposure to both heat and sun. A hat will provide shading for the face but there are times when it can make your face get hotter.
Heat is the skin’s enemy when it comes to discoloration. A hat may trigger more sun spots by:
- retaining heat from the head and causing the skin to get even redder.
- trapping heat on the forehead from wearing 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-rich in carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, and spinach. They 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, had10 subjects taking 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 up, for good health and skin protection.
If your summer sun spots have already appeared, read 7 ways to get rid of them.
Lastly, just because your sun spots or freckles come out in the summer easily 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 hope my tips give you a new way of thinking about how to keep them under control.
Note: For the record, I am not saying there is anything wrong with sun spots and freckles. I’m simply sharing my expert advice that I give to my clients who would like to prevent them from appearing. Some people love and embrace them, while others don’t. It’s a personal choice.
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.”