Updated 06/29/21. There’s nothing wrong with sun spots or freckles, but some people want to prevent them from forming throughout the summer. If that’s the case, it can be difficult (mostly because of the heat, as you’ll soon learn), but it’s not impossible. You just have to practice the right prevention techniques. That’s where I come in. Keep reading to learn how you can prevent sun spots from appearing on your skin, even if you’re like me, and you spend a lot of time in the great outdoors.
Apply Sunscreen Generously and Consistently
I know this is stating the obvious, but it’s of great importance. Exposing your skin to the sun (especially if you get a tan or a sunburn) will bring out sun spots. So, if you’re serious in your quest to prevent them from ever appearing in the first place, you must wear sunscreen every single day and you must apply it generously and consistently. After all, protecting your skin from the sun has much more to do with how much sunscreen you apply than it does the actual SPF number that’s listed on the bottle. That’s why I recommend applying at least a quarter-sized dollop to your face, alone. If your neck and chest are exposed, apply a separate quarter-sized dollop to those areas as well!
When you’re spending time outside, even if it’s on a cloudy day, you should reapply a generous layer of sunscreen every 90 minutes. To quickly reapply sunscreen on my face, I like to use an SPF powder that contains titanium dioxide (it’s one of the active ingredients used in mineral sunscreens). I simply dust it over my skin in an even layer and go about my day.
If you have an oily or combination skin type that’s prone to clogged pores (like skin types #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, or #6), it can be challenging to apply sunscreen generously if the formula feels greasy. If that’s the case for you, I recommend using Weightless Protection SPF 30. It’s a lightweight, non-greasy sunscreen that won’t clog pores. I personally use it every single day!
Limit Your Exposure to Sun and Heat
For years, it was thought that sun spots were only caused by the sun (as the name suggests). We now know that heat can stimulate melanin activity, resulting in discoloration on the skin. This means that no matter how diligent you are about wearing sunscreen and seeking shade, your skin can still form sun spots. This is particularly true if you live in a southern state where it gets extremely hot in the summer. I live in Austin, Texas, so I know that sometimes the heat is unavoidable. However, if you’re serious about preventing sun spots, avoid being in direct sunlight from 10 am to 4 pm. Those are the hottest hours of the day.
Did you know that melasma is also triggered by heat? Learn more about how to manage this tricky condition.
Keep Your Skin as Cool as Possible
Since overheated skin can increase melanin activity, it’s important to keep the temperature of the skin as low as possible. While sunscreen can prevent suntans and sunburns, it can’t prevent the skin from getting overheated, so keep cool!
How to Cool Down Overheated Skin to Prevent Sun Spots
- First and foremost, seek shade.
- If you’re out in the sun, put an ice compress or cold washcloth on the back of your neck.
- Splash skin with ice-cold water to quickly lower the skin’s internal temperature.
- Gently press a bag of frozen vegetables to the skin.
- Keep an alcohol-free toner in the fridge, so that when it’s applied to the skin after cleansing, it provides a cooling effect.
- Keep a gel-based mask, like the Renée Rouleau Rapid Response Detox Masque, in the fridge and apply it to clean skin for 15 minutes. It will cool the skin and hydrate thirsty skin cells.
- Go for a dip in the pool, lake, or ocean. This quickly lowers the body’s temperature to reduce heat in the skin.
Don’t Stop Using Acid Exfoliators During Summer
One of the best ways to manage skin discoloration (including sun spots) is to exfoliate regularly. This can be done through acid exfoliators, at-home peels, gentle facial scrubs, or even dermaplaning. No matter how you choose to do it, exfoliation encourages cellular turnover, which helps fade pigmentation.
However, people get worried about exfoliating in the summer, due to the fact that some exfoliating acids can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. I’m here to tell you that as long as you’re being diligent about sun protection, it’s business as usual with exfoliating acids. I, for one, use the Renée Rouleau Pore + Wrinkle Perfecting Serum all summer long. It’s formulated with lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acids, yet I can use it without incident because I stay on top of my sun protection.
With that being said, always use common sense. If you’re going to be at the beach for a few days, and you know you’ll be out in the sun a lot, you might want to skip exfoliants for a night or two before you go. Also, it’s important to use products that are fit for your skin type. Take the skin type quiz to find out which regimen is right for you and your unique needs.
Use a Gentle Facial Scrub Regularly
Due to the popularity of acid exfoliators, many people no longer feel the need to use a facial scrub. They think they’re kind of “old school.” While exfoliating acids such as lactic, malic, tartaric, glycolic, and salicylic do a great job of dissolving brown, pigmented cells, it’s a facial scrub that will actually lift them off the skin. In fact, in many instances, you can see an immediate fading of brown pigment after using a scrub. Together, a skincare routine that includes chemical exfoliants (acids) and physical exfoliants (scrubs) will give the best results.
Don’t Stop Using Retinol During Summer
Just like how you shouldn’t stop using acid exfoliators in the summer, you shouldn’t stop using retinol, either. An active form of vitamin A, like that which is found in retinol and retinoids, happens to be one of the most effective ingredients you can use for preventing sun spots. With continued use, it can smooth and resurface the skin while keeping pigment cells under control. However, it can also increase sun sensitivity, so sun protection is the key to using this ingredient safely. Read more about using retinol and retinoids in the summer.
Apply a Natural Skin Brightener Under Sunscreen
In addition to the use of exfoliants and retinol, a skin brightener can suppress melanin cells, helping to fade and prevent summer sun spots. Many skin-brightening products contain hydroquinone, which is a fairly controversial ingredient. If you want to use something more natural, I suggest using a serum with tetrahexydecyl ascorbate. It’s a type of vitamin C that is stable and non-irritating and can make a big difference in the appearance of skin tone. Using it in conjunction with daily sunscreen can even significantly increase UV protection! Find this ingredient in the Renée Rouleau Vitamin C&E Treatment.
Wear a Hat, But Be Cautious
In theory, protecting your skin from the sun by wearing a hat while outdoors is smart. However, it may backfire in certain cases. As I mentioned, you want to limit your exposure to both sun and heat. A hat will provide shade, but there are certainly times when it can make your face hotter, so beware.
How Hats Can Trigger Sun Spots:
- They can retain heat from the head, thus raising internal temperature.
- If they have a tight band, they can trap heat on the forehead (I have seen so many instances of forehead pigmentation due to people wearing hats in the summer).
- They can block your head from the breeze, which prevents you from cooling down.
A good test for this is to take off your hat when you’re outside. Does it make you feel cooler with or without it? The bottom line is if a hat makes you feel hotter, don’t wear it. If it makes you feel cooler, do wear it. Your best bet is to wear a hat that’s made from light, breathable fabric (like the ones runners wear). This will keep sunlight off your skin without trapping excess heat.
Wearing sunglasses is an effective way to cover the thin skin around the eyes, which is one of the first areas to show signs of aging. It can also prevent you from squinting in bright light, which can, in turn, can prevent fine lines and wrinkles from forming. According to research conducted by scientists in Japan, wearing sunglasses might even help prevent sun spots from forming in your skin. Let me explain. Researchers studied the effect of UV light on the eyes of mice. When the mice’s eyes were exposed to UV light, they discovered the skin had a darkening response. Further research demonstrated that UV light goes into the photoreceptors in the eyes and prompts the pituitary gland to create melanin within the skin. While this hasn’t been proven or extrapolated to humans, it’s still pretty incredible and could be another reason to consider wearing sunglasses.
Eat a Diet Rich in Antioxidants
Did you know that certain fruits and vegetables can boost your skin’s defense against sun damage? German researchers analyzed the results of seven large studies on beta-carotene—an antioxidant found in carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, and spinach—and found that consuming 24 to 180 milligrams a day for at least 10 weeks can significantly increase internal SPF.
Additionally, a small study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology had 10 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. It just goes to show that eating fruits and veggies is good for the health of your body and your skin. Read about the 10 best antioxidant-rich foods to eat for your skin.
Something to Keep in Mind
Just because sun spots or freckles appear on your skin in the summer, doesn’t mean you’re getting more sun damage than others. We all have things that are genetically hard-coded into our skin, and pigmentation from heat and sun is simply one that some people have to deal with. 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.”